Big things can be made in a single day; take Gmail for example, one of the world’s largest email services. Paul Buchheit, Gmail’s creator and lead developer, said that in 2004 the first version of Gmail was “literally written in a day.” This is the basic idea behind NPR’s newest business initiative: “Serendipity Day.” On Serendipity Day, all tech-side workers abandon their normal responsibilities and let their creativity run free, pursuing whatever idea that might strike their fancy. Though they can work on any project they desire, the one contingency is that all participants must share their work at the end. The idea was inspired by software developer Atlassian’s “FedEx Day,” which challenges workers to “deliver something new overnight.” What NPR arrived at is quite similar to Google’s well-known ’20 percent time,‘ which they tweaked to work for NPR’s unique situation (much smaller company without billions of dollars). The experiment encourages not only creativity, but also teamwork and collaboration; Sarah Lumbard, NPR Senior Director of Development, said of the day:
That’s where we’ve found the greatest explosion of innovation and creativity, when we bring in the different disciplines together. And we wanted to find a way to create an opportunity where all those people could work together at once. And those groups tend to be working on different rhythms.
As it turns out, the idea works. On the inaugural Serendipidity Day in May, Lumbard said, 30 employees generated 24 useable ideas. Lumbard refers to it as ‘super-rapid prototyping’: it gives you just enough time to see the potential of a good idea. The next Serendipity Day is set for this September, and Lumbard plans on making it a quarterly event for NPR. This is a brilliant idea for promoting independent, creative thinking within a company. Kudos Ms. Lumbard, we’ll take a page out of your book in the future.