Protect their time. Embrace the ambiguity of their experiment. Agreeing to let them experiment and obsess about a fascinating project is only half the game. The business day is full of previously undiscovered “things to do”, and your knee-jerk response when you find this new, urgent piece of work is to saddle it on the guy who is working on… something. You don’t know what it is because he can barely describe it himself, so please handle this urgent task. I swear when you’re done you can get back to… whatever it is you’re doing.
A terrific way to accelerate the boredom clock is a promise of productive and creative time that is then taken away. In the heat of the moment, the ambiguous nature of their experiment makes the decision easy: Get this urgent, unplanned task done or make progress on the unmeasurable? The only thing this decision teaches your team is how little you value the cultivation of your people.