Long ago, I learned of a nifty policy at 3M Corp. (NYSE:MMM), the folks who bring us Post-Its, fly-fishing lines, fluoropolymer resins, stethoscopes, air filters, and about 55,000 other products. The company's research technicians are encouraged to spend up to 15% of their time at work on any projects they want. The hope is that by thinking and tinkering, they may end up developing something profitable for the firm. That's how Post-Its were born, reportedly.

I admire that policy and think that the world might be a better place if more companies encouraged such creativity among their workforce. If nothing else, it might improve morale. And of course profits are quite possible, too. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) appears to have signed on to the concept, offering employees a full day per week (20% of their time) to innovate.

It's easier said than done, though, instituting such a policy. It costs money if you want to free up your workers from their usual assigned duties. Many companies probably simply can't swing it right now. But there's one large-ish firm that probably can -- Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). Microsoft is planning a special one-time dividend of $3 per share in the near future, which will cost it $32 billion. That's more than the GDP of North Korea and more than seven times the GDP of Somalia -- but it's not a problem for Microsoft, which recently sported more than $60 billion in cash and marketable securities in its coffers.

The only problem, or question, is whether this dividend is a smart thing to do. Many have long cried out for Microsoft to share some of its snowballing wealth with shareholders. In July, Mathew Emmert asked Mr. Softy to pay up, while Bill Mann in February urged the company to "return the money." In his cultureby.com blog, anthropologist Grant McCracken offered another take:

"Why is Microsoft giving all that money back? . I am a modest shareholder in Microsoft. I would rather they invested this money in research and development, to create, in other words, still more value in which I can share." He went on to note that he's heard from a "well-placed source" that the company scrutinizes new ideas ruthlessly, demanding promises of profits. That may be good in some regards, but it may not be ideal. As McCracken reasoned:

"Ideas like to keep their lunch money. They don't like being pushed around. Eventually, they will avoid you on the playground. And where are you then? Friendless and idea-free. Hmm, could this be the Microsoft we know? I have an idea. Microsoft should keep that $32 billion and use it to buy everyone in the corporation a day a week of real creativity. This shareholder would be well satisfied."

That sounds good to this shareholder, too.

Read more Foolish thoughts on Microsoft and Google:

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Microsoft.