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Learn How to Innovate Like Google

Posted on April 01, 2016

Moving far beyond their original mission of searching the web, Google is now a player in everything from mobile phones, virtual reality, and self-driving cars. This long run of innovation recently powered Google’s parent company, Alphabet, past Apple to become the most valuable company in the world.

How did Google create this hotbed of innovation and can their formula be replicated in other organizations? This shouldn’t be too hard according to Google's chief social evangelist, Gopi Kallayil, as long as companies follow the nine principles of innovation as he presented them at last year’s San Francisco Dreamforce summit.

These nine essential principles for large and small companies to remember are:

1. Innovation comes from anywhere

According to Kallayil’s observation, innovative ideas can come from the top down and the bottom up. They are also likely to arrive from a place you would least expect (think Will Hunting as the janitor). This concept is actually central to the idea of Vocoli – our employee suggestion software is designed to ensure innovative ideas can be submitted by anyone and are not lost in the day-to-day shuffle.

In support of this principle, Kallayil cites a doctor working for Google who argued the company had a moral obligation to run a suicide prevention phone number for anyone who searched for the term “suicide.” This result was to be delivered at the top of the page, above all other listings. When the change was put in place, call volume to this number went up by nine percent. In this case innovation was applied that literally saved lives.


2. Focus on the user

Money should be a secondary concern when thinking about innovation. Above all else, ideas should be devoted to addressing the needs of the user.

When Google introduced Instant Search, which offers users search suggestions after they type a few characters, sales reps within the company were concerned that this feature would shorten advertising viewing time. The company went ahead with the plan anyway and estimates this feature has saved humans 5,000 years of time after just one year of collective use.

Over the long term, this fixation on improving the user experience attracts more users which, usually, makes up for any short-term loss in revenue.


3. Aim to be ten times better

Rather than set goals to improve at an incremental rate, innovation demands setting a goal that is ten times better than the existing one. John Kennedy did this when he set a concrete goal of landing a man on the moon before the decade was over.

Similarly, Google Books set out with the audacious goal of organizing all of the world’s information and digitizing every book ever printed. Dozens of libraries around the world have joined the effort since it was launched in 2004 and the company has now scanned 30 million books of the 130 million books estimated to exist.


4. Bet on technical insights

Every organization has its own unique viewpoint and, to innovate effectively, it’s important to leverage this unique insight. For example, Google’s push to invent a self-driving car was prompted by the company’s own tools – Google Maps, Earth and Street View.

By taking these elements and joining with the artificial intelligence team from Stanford, Google has now created a car that has travelled from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe and back. When one talks about “disruption” of an entrenched industry, the idea of a self-driving car should be at the top of the list.


5. Ship and iterate

Made memorable by Mark Zuckerberg’s pithy, “Fail fast and break things,” this concept is more usefully remembered as “Ship and Iterate.” Waiting for perfection is not a good strategy and companies should instead seek to ship early and often. Products can then be improved in iterations based on user feedback.

Using this development model, an improved version of Google Chrome has been released every six weeks since it’s launch in 2006. The browser is now the number one browser in many countries. As the saying goes, “Perfection is the enemy of good.”


6. Give employees 20 percent time

This one is arguably the most famous of the Google principles. In this work environment, engineers and product managers are allowed to set aside one day a week to work on a favorite idea. The 20 percent time principle has produced noteworthy successes such as Gmail and AdSense. When employees are given a day to be creative, they will deliver.


7. Default to open processes

One key to creativity is to be open and receptive to ideas from outside the group. This was done when Google launched the Android platform. Because of the open architecture, developers around the world were able to create apps for the product. One billion people now use Android daily.


8. Fail well

While it is true that not all attempts at innovation succeed, it is also true that no innovation will happen at all when there is a stigma attached to failure. Companies should be tolerant of failure and recognize it happens when seeking to do great things. According to Kallayil, at Google “Failure is actually a badge of honor.” It demonstrates that someone was attempting something new and innovative.

That said, when products don’t reach their potential, it is a wise practice to discard them and pull the best features for reuse somewhere else.


9. Have a mission that matters

The most important principle according to Kallayil. People do their best work when they have “a strong sense of mission and purpose.” Employees should be guided by a belief their work has a positive impact on many people.

Adoption of these principles can, and will help your company to become more innovative. But even with these concepts in mind, creating a process for your employees to become more innovative can be a challenge. This is exactly why we created Vocoli.

At Vocoli, we know that your employees have great ideas and that your company can greatly benefit from those ideas. Our platform helps to better organize your innovation to make sure that your best ideas can be accomplished by your team. For a free demonstration of the Vocoli platform contact us here or give us a call at 888.919.5300.

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