July 6, 2017
I recently toured the Google headquarter campus in Mountain View, CA with a colleague who works there. This single visit sparked a powerful question: Why do companies invest in their employees?
For a moment, think of a playground for kids. Playgrounds are designed for more than exercise. They’re designed to encourage imagination (and the expression of imagination through action/exercise).
How do you get a child to exercise in a way that’s good for them? You wrap the activity in opportunities for imagination and creativity. This is why we don’t just hand our children dumbbells and yoga mats. In a playground, the child is surrounded by opportunities for creativity. The jungle gym, the swing set, the monkey bars…even at 28, that still looks fun to me! Creativity spurs activity, which propels focused development.
Google literally creates a playground for their “Googlers” – complete with colorful, oversized chairs. In doing so, not only do they encourage and provide an outlet for imagination, but they develop and foster the keystone habits (to borrow a term from Charles Duhigg(1)) that truly differentiate their workforce: curiosity, critical thinking, and imagination.
“Want to learn how to cook? We have a class for you.”
“Want to learn how to make the perfect espresso? Here’s free coffee and a quick tutorial.”
Unlike single serve and one-off training sessions, Googlers are surrounded by and saturated in opportunities to develop habits (of curiosity, critical thinking, and imagination), not just skills. These habits lay the foundation for a Googler’s flourishing and, as a result, the company’s success.
So it’s about much more than “employee value proposition” (this is a benefit of the Googler’s world, but not the originating purpose). Any company can offer a “Corporate University”, the learning “Mecca” for that organization. But that’s like making a child sit through a “How to Use a Jungle Gym” class when he/she should be on the playground.
How can employee development be more than just a “knowledge dump”? Corporate universities are great…as a supporting structure for development. But the primary avenue must focus on “Imaginative Exercise”; application of knowledge over time (Training-over-Time) through creativity and practice. Use Google’s example: surround employees with ways to “exercise” their imagination.
1) Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York: Random House, 2012. Print.