Google and Innovation go hand in hand. The breadth of Google products is vast, ranging from its core search function, to ads, to android, the cloud, maps, glass to scratch the surface. But where do these ideas come from, how are new ideas accepted as important enough to work on and who works on them? In all of these endeavors, Google’s leadership has been founded on a corporate culture emphasizing open innovation, as the most desirable of all organizational-objectives. Google employed an open innovation culture before the term was widely used. The way they treat employees and innovation is something engrained in the company’s culture not just its managers.
Innovation Culture at Google
Google’s Nine Principles of Innovation were revealed last year and are worth taking a deeper look into:
- Innovation from everywhere: At Google, innovation is not the purview of a specific department or elite cadre of individuals; rather it is everyone’s responsibility. Employees are encouraged to seek innovative solutions to all immediate problems, and offer their application for other issues confronting the firm. This generates a corporate-centric brand of internal (intranet) open-sourcing unique to Google.
- Focus on the user: Customer-centric product design is advocated over pure profit motivation. Building products that are easier for customers to operate stimulates profit through customer-appreciation of useful product-experiences, self-advertising the item. Anything that improves the user-experience brings them back to Google’s website and products, generating further interest and sales, while lowering the firm’s operating and advertising costs.
- Think 10X: Aim to provide a solution that is 10 times rather than 10%, better than what currently exists. Seek radical, rather than incremental, improvement and development; accept evidence from unlikely sources to generate unexpected but highly practical solutions.
- Bet on technical insights: Trust state-of-the-art technology to provide at least rudimentary guidelines for new or unresolved projects and products. Information and processes used to innovate are not subject to dogmatic or doctrinal motivations; they exist beyond human influence or error, and can be applied objectively. Internal, intranet open-sourcing fostering collaboration within the organization is especially open to exchange of technical insights across projects aligned with Google’s strategic imperatives.
- Launch and iterate: Realize that, however useful it can be, innovation never means perfection. The necessary objective of innovation is improvement. New or improved products will reach customers, who’ll have their own opinions about the objects’ functionality. Seek and use customer feedback about what’s not perfect in the item, and redeploy, enhancing the product’s quality once more with further development. Indeed, according to the essential precepts of innovation, changes will need to be made; that’s the basic premise of innovation.
- 20% time: Google has long relied on a “20% time” philosophy, wherein all employees were allotted 20% of their work-time, about a-day-a-week, to develop and perfect side-projects. Doing so transforms all workers into innovation agents simply by following ideas they are passionate about. 20% time has resulted in the development of successful products such as Google News, Google Alerts, GMail, GoogleEarth, GMail labs and off-road Google Maps Street View. However, in late 2013, 20% time was re-evaluated according to deep analytics of employee performance. The idea of “focused free-thinking” remains essential to the firm’s innovation culture, but in a somewhat modified form, with more attention being paid to ideas that have a clear association with Google’s strategic imperatives. Nevertheless, the objective of employees sharing ideas about thing they were not hired to do shows Google still values the concept of the 80-20 split, it’s approach has just been a bit more refined to focus on strategic initiatives. Everyone in the organization is thus given the time to authentically respond to their innovative spirit. Another way to look at this concept is intrapreneurship – essentially entrepreneurship internally within a company. Let your employees take on side jobs and work cross-functionally with other teams.
- Default to open process: This principle expands Google’s internal collaboration to permit a greater degree of open-sourced partnership than had previously existed. Innovation often stems from interaction of the best minds but, in a world of 7 billion, comparatively few of them are directly employed by Google. Open-sourcing invites contributions from a far larger number of potential innovators than are normally available to the firm, bringing an international collective of minds to bear on projects of all kinds.
- Fail well: Failure is a byproduct of innovation, and is frequently the source of process improvement. Ideas may not work out as planned, but can lead to something else of value. Even if a venture is an outright failure, one can inevitably find among the ruins the remnants of good ideas that, retooled and reprocessed, can lead to future success. This “morphing” of the best aspects of a failed project frequently generates beneficial redeployment of seemingly useless projects.
- Have a mission that matters: Perhaps the most important of them all. An underlying theme of innovative processes, and the principles guiding them, is providing a means of purposing them toward corporate objectives and strategies. Google’s products and services impact millions of people worldwide every day, which gives the firm’s innovation culture a prevailing sense of useful enterprise, one based on improving communication among people, businesses and nations. Google’s mission of generating information for anyone with access to a computer – whether it be the most arcane fact about an obscure point of history or finding a living person lost during the course of a tsunami — motivates its employees to innovate globally, across all fields and disciplines, for an exceptional range of products and services.
Google’s innovation culture reflects its commitment to operational excellence, steady performance and perpetual growth, encouraging useful global collaboration and good will.