Following in the footsteps of other tech companies like 3M and Google, Apple has decided to launch a program allowing workers to take a certain amount of time off to pursue projects and ideas outside their normal duties. The program, dubbed "Blue Sky," offers up to two weeks paid holiday in which some employees can work on their own pet projects. The intent of the program is to foster ideas that could prove to be of benefit to Apple, though a secondary purpose would likely be to help retain employees that might otherwise jump ship to other companies.
Though 3M was one of the first to offer such a program, starting in 1948, Google -- along with other tech companies -- offers a program called "20 percent," in which employees can take up to one-fifth of their work year as a paid "leave of absence" on experiments, projects and other hobbies beyond the scope of their job description. Like Apple's program, Google's initiative is available only for projects that may directly benefit the company.
As with 3M, the paid time off to "chase rainbows" has resulted in some of the company's most popular products: for 3M, one invention to come out of its 15-percent program was the Post-It Note. For Google, some of its most popular non-search products have emerged from its 20 percent program, including GMail and Google Earth.
It is not unusual for employees at the skill level required by Apple, Google and other tech companies to have interests beyond their field of specialty, or to make accidental discoveries that could use some follow-up. By allowing the employees to pursue these interests without jeopardizing their position or salary, the company expects to add value to each employee, keep them happier, and perhaps yield some new concepts or inventions it can use. Unlike Google's program, Apple's is limited to a select set of employees so far.
The conglomerate 3M, best known today for its adhesive products but which began life as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, a company looking to build a better grade of sandpaper, was transformed by ideas that came from outside its original area of focus. Today the company is involved in a wide-ranging field of scientific endeavors, from dental and automotive-protection products to optical films and electronic circuits along with their core business of adhesive, abrasive and laminate products.