Playing the innovation game – why your future strategy could be less ITO (Innovation Time Out) and more IFT (Innovation Full Time)

By Sergei Miller-Pomphrey on 28 November 2022   •   4 mins read

Since the introduction of Google’s 80/20 policy in 2007, which encourages employees to spend 80% of their time on their day job and 20% on more creative endeavours, the concept of Innovation Time Out (ITO) has been popular among forward-thinking business strategists.  

Here, Modulr’s Sergei Miller-Pomphrey, Senior Product Manager, cautions against using 80/20 as the innovation gold standard, arguing that it can, in fact, become a barrier to creativity. And he explains why no one can actually be innovative , as he introduces ModLabs, Modulr’s dedicated innovation experimentation function. 

It’s all about the 80/20, or is it? 

There are many theories about what innovation is, and what innovation isn’t. I’m here to explain why not all of them are helpful, including Google’s 80/20 policy.  

Have you ever booked a holiday and felt you had to work twice as hard to prepare for it, while the post-holiday catch-up can be so overwhelming that you need a holiday to recover? Sometimes, it can be hard to make the most of the intervening time off. Innovation Time Out can be a little like that. Rather than liberating employees from the constraints of their traditional workload, the 80/20 approach often puts people under more pressure and stress (aka innovation inhibitors) by compressing 100% of their regular work, into 80% of the time.  

And, while that 20% sounds great in theory, when the work pressure mounts, it’s the blue sky thinking that gets pushed to the back burner in favour of completing the day-to-day, especially in modern, scaling businesses. Because, let’s face it, when you’re feeling boxed-in by work, it’s hard to think outside of the box. 

What Modulr does differently – introducing ModLabs 

So, if Google’s ITO approach isn’t the innovation gold standard that many think it is, then what is? Well, as with most things, there’s not a one size fits all solution but other interpretations of the 80/20 concept could include having 20% of a workforce focusing on ‘innovation’, 100% of the time. 

At Modulr, we have a dedicated innovation function called ModLabs. We’re the ones for whom innovation - although we prefer to say 'experimentation' - is the day job. The team is largely made up of those within the business who have shown an aptitude for creativity and a keenness to push those technological boundaries. Most of our innovation talent has risen to the surface and self-selected. Together, our role is to discover new opportunities, to sustain our future growth and to reimagine the future of Modulr, payments and money. 

We do this by being free to experiment with new ideas, co-design with our community and tinker with our platform and by not being committed to predefined roadmaps, targets or service ownership.  

While our goals lie in disruptive innovation (the game-changing stuff), we work in the incremental - re-packaging propositions, pulling together features and tech in different ways, and combining use cases or solving problems our customers are facing, today. We do so partly in the hope that, over time, these small incremental improvements will add up to something with real disruptive potential.  

And, we like to call it experimentation not innovation, but more of that below. 

Innovation — (re)defined 

Innovation is subjective. Furthermore, it’s detached from the one doing the so-called innovating — it’s the outcome that’s innovative, not your effort. The market tells you that you’re innovative or, more accurately, that your products or services are innovative. You’re only innovative when others say you are. And, much like profit is an outcome of all the other processes and improvements, innovation is a potential outcome of your efforts, not simply a guarantee of your intent.  

So, in short, you cannot do innovation and you cannot be innovative, especially not on top of your day job. People need to have the headspace to experiment. If they’re constantly thinking about their next deliverable or next stakeholder meeting, it becomes impossible to think beyond. One of the reasons ModLabs is great is that it’s an investment for the future. We’ve been given space and capacity to think and within that space, we’re able to find opportunity. So, for us, it's less ITO (Innovation Time Out) and more IFT (Innovation Full Time). 

Sergei Miller-Pomphrey is the Senior Product Manager of ModLabs, Modulr’s innovation experimentation department.  

Read more about Sergei’s take on ‘innovation’ and discover the other key focus areas for future-facing businesses by downloading our Future Strategies eBook today!