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Where You Can Be Paid For Passionate Distractions

Firms like Google actually encourage employees to spend 15–20% of their time in this kind of unfocused discovery, despite how messy it may seem. Rather than having people moonlight at home in stealth mode, where the idea may die from neglect or take root so well that they choose to leave to do a start-up, the 20% rule is a way to encourage and support breakthrough ideas. People can take ownership of something they're inventing on one day a week or pool the days and take a few weeks.

The paid time underwrites employees as if they were entrepreneurial CEOs launching their own projects, like start-up companies, until the day it's ripe enough to show to management. Krishna Barat, principal scientist at Google, came up with Google News just this way. His personal interest in the media and his memories of listening to the BBC with his grandfather, back in India, were galvanized on 9/11, when the scramble to find news about the events of the day made it particularly obvious how hard it was to find and difficult to sort. When CEO Eric Schmidt dropped by to give him the thumbs up, and founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin gave their endorsement, Barat's dream became a full-time endeavor.

Unfortunately, the perceived reality for most people is that you've got to keep your head down to the tasks of your job. As a practical matter, you may feel you don't have the money, time, or energy to take a side trip to explore a potential passion, particularly if your company won't offer support. If you are like most people, you have to work to pay for housing and care for loved ones, and you put other passions on the back burner until the day that other critical needs or goals are met. As you most likely already know, of course, those very same concerns and limitations were also real and threatening for the vast majority of entrepreneurs and enduringly successful people. They felt the fear and did it anyway. Few passions come conveniently prefinanced; you have to pay for them with sweat equity whenever you can squeeze them in.

"We must test our fantasies—otherwise, they remain just that," said Herminia Ibarra. "Either the fantasy never finds a match in the real world, paycheck-producing job or," she warned, you "remain emotionally attached to a fantasy career that you do not realize you have outgrown—while you wait for the flash of blinding insight, opportunities pass you by. To launch ourselves anew, we need to get out of our heads. We need to act. We learn who we have become—in practice, not in theory—by testing fantasy and reality, not by 'looking inside.' Knowing oneself is crucial, but it is usually the outcome of—and not a first input to—the reinvention process," she said. "I discovered that most people create new working identities on the side at first, by getting involved in extracurricular ventures and weekend projects—the only way we figure out what we really want to do is by giving it a try."5

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