Google on Innovation

Marissa Mayer is Vice President of Search Products and User Experience at Google. John Hunter from the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog dropped by Think Differently!! and left a comment alerting me to the fact that Mayer gave a talk on innovation at Google at her alma mater, Stanford University – and the talk has made it to YouTube.

As John notes, Mayer’s talk revolves around 9 key points:

  1. Ideas come from everywhere
  2. Share everything you can
  3. You’re Brilliant. We’re Hiring
  4. A license to pursue dreams (Google’s 20% time policy)
  5. Innovation not instant perfection (get something out there, get feedback, and iterate quickly and often)
  6. Data is apolitical (use data based decision making)
  7. Creativity loves Constraints
  8. Users not money
  9. Don’t kill projects, morph them

Mayer’s discussion was fascinating. For example, “you’re brilliant, we’re hiring” was selected after Google put this on an internal bulletin board – and noted that this slogan got 5x the click-throughs of other alternatives posted.

The license to pursue dreams was particularly interesting. Google’s policy to allow people 20% of their time to pursue their own independent projects is well known. Mayer, however, pointed out that this time is not always or typically taken on Fridays (or other nominated day) on a regular basis – often people work on their core work for months and then spend bursts such as weeks on their independent projects. And this independent work – because it harnesses employee passion and drive – leads to 2.5x greater productivity. Mayer studied all products released in the second half of 2005, and determined that 50% of all product releases were generated as the output of the 20% independent project time. For businesses considering mirroring Google’s policy within their own organisations, that’s a powerful statistic right there.

After noting that Google prefer never to launch a product or service at the end of the week (they only do so between Monday and Wednesday), Mayer recounts a story where the team had produced a product release (Google news) – but it was ready on Thursday and therefore would not be released till next week. The team of 6 was deadlocked regarding whether to use the time to build a new feature to filter the news by date, or to filter the news by location. The team could not agree, so Mayer made the decision to hold off and release the product without either feature. After release, the comments and requests came in – around 300 requests for filtering by date, and around 3 requests for filtering by location. Goggle released an ‘imperfect’ product – but iterated rapidly based on customer feedback – a great model of user-centred innovation.

11 Responses to Google on Innovation
  1. Julia Styles
    August 12, 2007 | 11:34 PM

    Good post. It is always interesting to hear more about google and their HR practices.

    Using customer responses to tweak services has obviously been a powerful tool for Google, and reminds me how useful evaluations can be.

  2. ccc
    November 4, 2007 | 6:58 PM

    Too bad, the video does not seem to be available any more. For the rest I can say: I read your post with great interest.

  3. Anonymous
    April 29, 2008 | 5:59 AM


    "Google, is starting to suffer something that could have an equally significant impact: a drain of some of the entrepreneurial energy that drove its early growth and on which its unique culture depends heavily.” While Google “continues to suck in some of the best talent around,” and former Googlers “pay tribute to the intellectually stimulating culture, good pay levels and extravagant benefits,” for some early hires Google “has lost two vital ingredients: the anything-goes approach of a start-up environment and the chance to strike it rich."

  4. Karishma
    August 25, 2008 | 5:59 PM

    Google Rocks!!

    and the stories that happen in google are stories you can never forget! 🙂

    This post taught me how sometimes imperfection is ok, as long as we are ready to take feedback and change accordingly! 🙂

  5. jumi
    October 30, 2009 | 6:08 PM

    Creativity does come from everywhere but all creative ideas need proper channel of outlets.Google provides these outlets and so I love google.

  6. Chaitra
    June 21, 2010 | 9:10 PM

    My personnal favorite is a license to persure dreams. It really sparks the imaginations and make you smile. Great blog post.

  7. Quora
    July 5, 2011 | 4:38 AM

    What does “innovation” mean to Google?…

    Google is one of the world’s most attractive employers to graduating students, is also not an exceptional case. Some of the ideas or principles of innovation behind Google include: (1) Innovation not instant perfection (get something at the end of the …

  8. […] Discipline to execute them, so that ideas turn into profitable innovations.  Companies such as Google, 3M and Innocent may seem to be all about creativity at first glance, but a deeper inspection […]

  9. […] driver of business success. We saw this in action with Google. Back when Google was a startup, they focused heavily on innovation in search. As a result, they created a major source of income and a name for themselves as the […]

  10. […] driver of business success. We saw this in action with Google. Back when Google was a startup, they focused heavily on innovation in search. As a result, they created a major source of income and a name for themselves as the […]

  11. […] at an early stage. Let innovators tinker and give them credit for being good at it. This is what companies like Google understand. Inventors, while liking the idea of having enough money to live a comfortable life, […]

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