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Granting tenure to new ideas in your life

A tenured appointment is an indefinite academic appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances, such as financial exigency or program discontinuation. Tenure is a means of defending the principle of academic freedom, which holds that it is beneficial for society in the long run if scholars are free to hold and examine a variety of views.

When it comes to research, academic institutions understand the importance of funding work that doesn't bear any immediate returns (and often doesn't bear any returns even on successful completion).

A lot of companies have started taking this approach as well. A company I previously worked for had the equivalent of a tenured academician in a data science role. While compensation for most roles were tied to short term and long term performance (quarterly bonus and stock options), the compensation for the tenured role was lavish but not tied to short term performance, and only tied to long term performance through stock options that didn't vary based on the person's performance review scores. In essence, there was no variable compensation that varied on the person's short term performance.

And the charter for this role was to identify any problem that concerns the company and solve it, irrespective of whether that immediately impacts the business or not. Google and IBM are two of the popular companies that take this approach and hire good people in such roles. I'm sure there are others that do it as well.

By defining and structuring roles in this manner, these companies are ensuring that they are investing resources in wild ideas and granting the freedom for people working on them to give it their all without the (dis)incentive of being tied to short term impact and performance.

Of course, as and when people in these roles make some progress on outlandish ideas and show that there could be potential business value to them, such ideas are then handed over to impact focused teams, allowing these people to continue innovating and exploring new ideas.

I have been employing this principle in my own personal life.

When someone is as methodical and structured about what they do and obsessed about productivity as I am, it is the equivalent of investing all the effort on short-term impact oriented work with no room for curious exploration and innovation in new areas.

So, in the past two years, I have set aside exploration time to do one new thing that is pretty involved that I wouldn't have done otherwise. Last year, it was writing and publishing a novel. And this year, it has been performing standup comedy.

Both these efforts fit nowhere into what goals I had in mind for the years, but I decided to take them on anyway. I enjoyed writing a novel and was happy with the outcome of the first attempt, so I've been working on another one this year. The jury is still out on my standup comedy performances and I will decide whether to keep at it in a more goal-oriented way or to shelve it for a while at the end of the year.

And given that we're in the middle of September already, I've started toying with ideas that could fit into this kind of a year long exploratory effort next year.

Do you grant tenure to new ideas in your life? 

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