Innovate or Die: Google’s 8 Innovation Principles

Innovate or Die: Google’s 8 Innovation Principles

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How does a company like Google continue to grow exponentially while still staying relevant and innovative? How do they do it?

Susan Wojcicki, Google’s Senior Vice President, has written about some of the processes and principles in place to make sure that the Google doesn’t get bogged down in the past as it keeps moving forward.

If you want details about how Google continues to do better and reinvent itself, Eric Schmidt’s (Executive Chairman at Google) book, co-authored with Jonathan Rosenberg, entitled “How Google Works.”

These the eight principles of Innovation of Google written by Susan and first published on think with Google.

“The greatest innovations are the ones we take for granted, like light bulbs, refrigeration and penicillin. But in a world where the miraculous very quickly becomes common-place, how can a company, especially one as big as Google, maintain a spirit of innovation year after year?

HAVE A MISSION THAT MATTERS

Work can be more than a job when it stands for something you care about. Google’s mission is to ‘organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’ We use this simple statement to guide all of our decisions. When we start work in a new area, it’s often because we see an important issue that hasn’t been solved and we’re confident that technology can make a difference. For example, Gmail was created to address the need for more web email functionality, great search and more storage.

Our mission is one that has the potential to touch many lives, and we make sure that all our employees feel connected to it and empowered to help achieve it. In times of crisis, they have helped by organizing life-saving information and making it readily available. The dedicated Googlers who launched our Person Finder tool (to learn more see Missions that Matter) within two hours of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan this March are a wonderful recent example of that commitment.

THINK BIG BUT START SMALL

No matter how ambitious the plan, you have to roll up your sleeves and start somewhere. Google Books, which has brought the content of millions of books online, was an idea that our founder, Larry Page, had for a long time. People thought it was too crazy even to try, but he went ahead and bought a scanner and hooked it up in his office. He began scanning pages, timed how long it took with a metronome, ran the numbers and realized it would be possible to bring the world’s books online. Today, our Book Search index contains over 10 million books.

Similarly, AdSense, which delivers contextual ads to websites, started when one engineer put ads in Gmail. We realized that with more sophisticated technology we could do an even better job by devoting additional resources to this tiny project. Today, AdSense ads reach 80 percent of global internet users – it is the world’s largest ad network – and we have hundreds of thousands of publishers worldwide.

STRIVE FOR CONTINUAL INNOVATION, NOT INSTANT PERFECTION

The best part of working on the web? We get do-overs. Lots of them. The first version of AdWords, released in 1999, wasn’t very successful – almost no one clicked on the ads. Not many people remember that because we kept iterating and eventually reached the model we have today. And we’re still improving it; every year we run tens of thousands of search and ads quality experiments, and over the past year we’ve launched over a dozen new formats. Some products we update every day.

Our iterative process often teaches us invaluable lessons. Watching users ‘in the wild’ as they use our products is the best way to find out what works, then we can act on that feedback. It’s much better to learn these things early and be able to respond than to go too far down the wrong path.

Iterating has served us well. We weren’t first to Search, but we were able to make progress in the market by working quickly, learning faster and taking our next steps based on data.

LOOK FOR IDEAS EVERYWHERE

As the leader of our Ads products, I want to hear ideas from everyone – and that includes our partners, advertisers and all of the people on my team. I also want to be a part of the conversations Googlers are having in the hallways.

Several years ago, we took this quite literally and posted an ideas board on a wall at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View. On a Friday night, an engineer went to the board and wrote down the details of a convoluted problem we had with our ads system. A group of Googlers lacking exciting plans for the evening began re-writing the algorithm within hours and had solved the problem by Tuesday.

Some of the best ideas at Google are sparked just like that – when small groups of Googlers take a break on a random afternoon and start talking about things that excite them. The Google Art Project, which brought thousands of museum works online, and successful AdWords features like Automated Rules, are great examples of projects that started out in our ‘microkitchens.’ This is why we make sure Google is stocked with plenty of snacks at all times.

SHARE EVERYTHING

Our employees know pretty much everything that’s going on and why decisions are made. Every quarter, we share the entire Board Letter with all 26,000 employees, and we present the same slides presented to the Board of Directors in a company-wide meeting.

By sharing everything, you encourage the discussion, exchange and re-interpretation of ideas, which can lead to unexpected and innovative outcomes. We try to facilitate this by working in small, crowded teams in open cube arrangements, rather than individual offices.

When someone has an idea or needs input on a decision, they can just look up and say, ‘Hey…’ to the person sitting next to them. Maybe that cube-mate will have something to contribute as well. The idea for language translation in Google Talk (our Gmail chat client) came out of conversations between the Google Talk and Google Translate teams when they happened to be working near one another.

Read the complete piece here.