How to innovate like Google

By Rob Tarling

05 July 2016

Google is one of the most innovative companies of our time. Learn more about their 9 principles of innovation and why they matter to your organisation.

Why innovation matters

A key dimension of digital transformation is innovation – the processes by which new ideas are developed, tested and brought to market by organisations.

Traditionally, companies have sought to “innovate” with a distinct focus on the “finished” product or service, with decision-making based on the analysis, intuition and seniority of managers and user feedback coming very late – if at all – in the process. The overwhelming mind-set was one of avoiding failure, and the process meant that testing new ideas was lengthy, difficult and expensive.

Interestingly, in the digital age, innovation is turned on its head. Rather than seeking “perfection” upfront, a far more productive approach focusses on identifying and clarifying the problem to be solved and then developing, testing and learning iteratively at pace to arrive at a solution. A solution that is never perfect or finished, but at least exhibits the qualities of having half a chance of success at far less cost and less risk, and most importantly much greater organisational learning.

But innovation is inherently creative, right? Can you really formalise it?

How Google thinks about innovation

Well a rather successful start-up based in Mountain View in California thinks you can. As a poster child of the digital age, with a constant commitment to innovation, Google’s innovation principles have become known the world over.

Innovation comes from anywhere

Innovation can come from the top down as well as bottom up, and in the places you least expect.

Focus on the user

When you focus on the user, all else will follow (sounds familiar, right?!).

Aim for 10x

If you come to work thinking that you will improve things by ten percent, you will only see incremental change. If you want radical and revolutionary innovation, think “10X”, and that will force you to think outside the box.

Bet on your technical insights

Every organisation has unique insights, and if you are open and bet on it, then it can lead to major innovation.

Ship and iterate

In true lean style, ship products often and early, and do not wait for perfection. Let users help you to “iterate” it (another common mantra of the digital age).

Give employees 20 percent time

Give employees 20 percent of their work time to pursue projects they are passionate about, even if it is outside the core job or core mission of the company.

Default to openness

Make your processes open to all users. Tap into the collective energy of the user base to obtain great ideas.

Fail with pride

There should be no stigma attached to failure. In Googlespeak, if you do not fail often, you are not trying hard enough.

Have a mission that matters

Quite possible the most important principle. Everyone at Google has a strong sense of mission and purpose, and each person should have his or her own story.

In this particular post, we’ll take a closer look at what “thinking 10x” entails, and what lessons your business can take from it.

What is thinking 10x?

Simply put, 10x stipulates that, rather than making small or incremental changes to a product or service – let’s assume an improvement of 10% for example’s sake – organisations should aim to create new products or services that innovate radically on their existing ones – resulting in a 10-fold improvement rather than purely 10%.

Google’s innovation strategy is at the core of the entire business, and it’s been the seed for projects like Gmail, Google+, Google Glass and self-driving cars.

And while these days it is difficult to picture Google as anything but a brand with its footprint in every part of our digital lives, but it’s important to remember that in its early days they were just a search engine – a popular search engine, no doubt, but there wasn’t much to separate it from the competition at the time.

In fact, many thought Gmail was an April Fools’ joke when it launched on April 1st 2004, due to what was, at the time, a ludicrous amount of mailbox space. Fast-forward to today, Google has carved out a niche for itself not only in an ever-expanding number of markets but in our collective consciousness.

So, what did Google’s 10x principle have to do with it?

How Google used the 10x principle to change the world

According to Larry Page, Google’s enigmatic CEO and co-founder, innovation isn’t only a means to get ahead of the competition, it’s a vital factor in the long-term survival of a business in today’s hyper-competitive and technology-driven markets.

In an interview with Wired, here’s how Page summed up the need for 10x innovation: "How exciting is it to come to work if the best you can do is trounce some other company that does roughly the same thing? That’s why most companies decay slowly over time. They tend to do approximately what they did before, with a few minor changes. It’s natural for people to want to work on things that they know aren’t going to fail. But incremental improvement is guaranteed to be obsolete over time."

Google’s attitude towards radical innovation means they’re continuously introducing new products that cater to emerging needs, rather than making incremental changes that only serve the current needs of their customers – it’s no wonder that Google is now widely regarded as one of the most innovative companies in the world.

How you can apply innovation in your organisation

Although Google’s innovation principles and their use of technology are two sides of the same coin, having access to a huge technology budget isn’t a prerequisite of being an innovative organisation.

In essence, innovation is about looking at something in new and unprecedented ways. This means that any company with a vision and the drive to see it through to completion, can achieve truly amazing things. And within this what is far more important than your technological resources is your capacity to work and think in new ways, and put processes in place to ensure the innovative ideas you generate are able to come to fruition.

At Storm ID, we come to realise that this is more about how you work and think, rather than simply your digital technologies.

If you’d like to realise your organisation’s potential for innovation we’re here to help. Get in touch with us to request a totally free initial consultation on your thoughts around digital transformation so we can help you transform your organisation.