020 3146 5586

The 70:20:10 Innovation Rule (updated for 2023)

by | Feb 18, 2015

Creative businesses and individuals need an appetite for risk – but not if it could derail the business. Here’s how the 70:20:10 innovation rule can help…


People often say to me: “If coming up with breakthrough ideas is about taking risks, then how can you operationalise that in a business without wasting money, upsetting shareholders and damaging your core brand?”

Or words to that effect.

You may have heard of the 70:20:10 rule for innovation, and it’s pertinent here.

It was originally the work of Lombardo and Eichinger for use in social planning. But once Eric Schmidt (the ex-CEO of Google) introduced the 70:20:10 framework for innovation within the company, others quickly caught on.

The idea is that your time should be spent like this:

  • 70% on core business
  • 20% core business-related projects
  • 10% on projects unrelated to core business (i.e. the ‘risky’ stuff)

Schmidt said in 2005 (of what has now commonly come to be known as ‘20% time’): “The test that I apply – and we do this every day, 70/20/10 – is to ask how a feature will extend the core, the adjacent, or the innovative stuff to fulfil our mission” (CNN, 2005).

The 70:20:10 rule in practice

You can apply the model to time and to budgets to mitigate the risks involved in trialling new ideas and ways of working. Basically, you put more time and effort into your ‘bankers’ – but you don’t neglect affording a little time to left-field stuff.

The kind of things that may one day make a massive difference.

You should think of the 70% as the business bread and butter – not to be messed with. It’s the stuff that is working and is low-risk. The 20% is middle risk, while the 10% is high risk. But that 10% work also comes with possible high returns in the future.

A good example today would be ChatGPT. Who knows what it can do for any number of businesses? It’s just the kind of thing that the ‘risky’ 10% could be devoted to.

Coca Cola are also known for using this model to test out new areas and experiment with ideas (as the image above shows) – but with some boundaries in terms of the risk of the investment and the resource.

Anyone for marketing Darwinism?

There’s a great in-depth case study from Contagious Magazine about how Coke reinvented its marketing strategy – so called ‘Content 2020’ here.

Why does all this matter? It’s summed up for me in this great quote: “We are moving from marketing communism – in which marketers were able to push average quality marketing to consumers – to marketing Darwinism, in which people will only see what they want to see.” Javier Sánchez Lamelas

So next time you’re planning a pitch or campaign, or you’re developing ideas for your own brand, perhaps think about how you could play around with your time and budgets using the 70:20:10 innovation rule and methodology.

Another way we like to look at it: it’s a way to ensure that you don’t bet the farm on something completely new.

And if you’re worried that even 10% of risk will expose you to possible failure, head here to find out how failure can be vital for personal growth and long-term business success.

Need help with that creatively-challenging 10%? We help teams to become better creative thinkers – so that they can turn dull ideas into wild ones that might just change the world. Check out our courses or drop us a line.

Are you and your team ready to prepared to supercharge your creativity?

Brace yourself for the ultimate game-changer: our best-selling How To Become A Creative Ninja workshop. This thought-provoking session will supercharge your team with the knowledge, skills, and mindset needed to generate ideas and stay ahead of the curve.