I've written a few times about the ways in which you could find interesting projects at work and potentially learn a few new skills while improving the ways your company uses technology. More and more companies are willing to allow side projects like the Google 20% time or the Atlassian FedEx days. My own company, Red Gate Software, implements this a few times a year as "Down Tools Week."
Many of you have replied that your companies are resistant to this, or your boss doesn't think it's a good idea. I have certainly had a few managers that felt that way, but I've also had success over time in changing their minds a bit. I've been able to get them to give me the chance to pilot ideas in a small way. Sometimes it's taken years, but I've learned to play "long ball" and think about succeeding over time, not getting my way this week.
One of the ways you can convince someone to give you a chance is to continue to show other examples of success from other companies. Nordstrom's, not necessarily the place you'd expect to see IT innovation, has a video of how their lab enables them to build better applications. It might be worth saving this link, and even sending it to your boss with a proposal.
If your boss is supportive, ask for a week to work on a project with another person or two and spec something out in your proposal. If your boss is skeptical, ask for a few half days across a month to work on something and build some basic prototype project. Even if it's mocked up on paper, you can show the value of how an idea might work. If you get some support from your end users and customers, you might find yourself with a fun project to work on in 2012.
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