"We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20 percent of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google," says Larry Page. "This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner. For example, AdSense for Content and Google News were both prototyped in '20 percent time.' Most risky projects fizzle, often teaching us something. Others succeed and become attractive businesses."
The much-applauded free-time projects give employees a sense of autonomy—one way of keeping smart people committed as the company grows more bureaucratic. "As companies grow larger, it's more difficult to allow people to be creative," acknowledged Craig Neville-Manning, Google's engineering director.
Sadly, as the world business went into a decline and Google prepared itself to weather the economic storm, there were indications that the 20 percent times might be curtailed. Schmidt said that engineers may not get a lot of time and a lot of people to work on dream projects. "When the cycle comes back," he said, "we will be able to fund his brilliant vision."
In the autumn of 2008, Google executives and a number of state and local politicos gathered at Grand Central Terminal to admire a demonstration of one of Google's most popular 20 percent projects—Google maps for the public transit system.
Google was allowed to install ten demonstration kiosks in the train station ...