What’s Google’s secret sauce for digital innovation?

Hands up who would love to live the Google dream? The Search Engine Giant is the super-hero of business and digital innovation, solving countless consumer problems in small and tremendous ways. Google has provided us with the world’s information, charming gadgetry and the inventions dreams are made of.

Once upon a time, it seemed inconceivable that cars would drive themselves or that our mobile phones would predict our daily movements.

So what is Google’s secret sauce? At the heart of Google’s success is a structure and thirst for innovation. 

Read on to take a peek behind the door of the Google fortress and to discover 6 insights that can help you to foster your own culture of innovation.

1.  Innovation is messy

First thing’s first. Innovation is messy. It can’t be ticked off in neat boxes.  Although the mention of mess and unpredictability is enough to make the average business person break into hives, chaos and innovation go hand in hand.

Saying ‘Hey, let’s innovate from 2-3 PM every Tuesday’ puts too much pressure on the process and tends to shut down creativity and outward thinking, and therefore is more harmful than helpful.

We can’t bottle innovation, or rely on it to come fast-and-steady when we want it to. People are not innovation-machines. So what can we do? According to Google, we can create the environment in which it can grow. Therefore, it is top down. The leader of the business has to promote and work towards this culture.

2.   We are all marketers these days

Innovation is bred from research and knowledge, and the simple act of listening to our customers.

Google expects that by 2020, every person on the planet will have internet access – compared to just 40% today.

marketing research

Vital information we need to become industry leaders is now not just gleaned from intuition,  but from hard facts. Cultural insights and listening tools are now at our fingertips. This has been labelled as ‘the marketing paradigm shift’ or ‘the movement from Madmen to Mathmen.’

This doesn’t mean that marketing has lost the creative spark from the Madmen days of cigars, mid morning whiskeys and plaid suits. But what has changed is that now, more than ever, we can discover the true answer to the question: what does the consumer really want, even if they don’t know it yet?

This ‘shift to data’ means that companies now have the ability to see the world through the customer’s eyes, and not just to imagine it that way. Because of this, Google realised that their consumer’s problems and limitations were their problems too.

For instance, Google grew to realise that the fact that many people don’t spell very well was a problem for them to in delivering accurate search. So they devised a sophisticated solution – predictive search that offers pre-populated search terms depending on what you had typed so far.

 

3.   10X thinking

google cable to the moon

Most innovation is about making pretty marginal improvements to things that are already there and working ‘ok’. And most of the innovations that Google bring about on a regular basis are of this nature.

But the question ‘is this humanly possible?’ is taken seriously in the Google offices; a world where impossibility is regarded as a soft and pliable thing, to be questioned and prodded at.

This ‘big thinking’ culture in Google fosters free thinking and out-of-the-box ideas, and then gives employees the time to develop them.

So how does this system of innovation work in Google? All employees are given equal opportunity to make innovative suggestions, even ones which go against the grain and which push against the confines of technology and conventional thinking.

This way of thinking has given leeway for many great Google inventions, one being Gmail, which was the result of a Google engineer who got an urge to ‘fix email’.

Another employee suggestion which was also given real consideration was the that of building a cable to the moon.  However, it was discovered with much dismay that although this was technically possible, there was not enough material in the world to build a cable that long (don’t you just hate it when that happens?).

This is the stuff that has the capacity to change things by a factor of 10, rather than 10%. ’10X thinking’, they call it. It’s the game changer – the driverless car, the drones delivering your online order packages, the Google glasses.

Don’t be afraid to think big.

4.   Growing a team of innovators

For a culture of innovation to thrive, you need to have an environment of innovators. Ah, but how do we go about hiring these innovators? Is there some sort of innovation exam we can put our applicants through?

Nope … unfortunately not. It’s all about watching out for the little signs of innovation in your potential employees. And what is one consistent trait within innovative  people: a consistent thirst for knowledge. 

These innovative folk should be questioning the present and predicting the future. Therefore, when hiring, employers should look for any innovative or out-of-the-box things potential employees have done in their personal or professional lives, like a website they might have built for their community Sports team. Don’t accept them telling you they are innovative – where’s the evidence?

It is also important to remember that hiring innovative talent is a two-way sales process. You need to demonstrate your own culture of innovation if you want the innovators to join you.

Employing some bright sparks who have their finger on the pulse of culture and their minds two steps ahead seems like a good plan to foster innovation in your business. And it is. But if you leave a bright spark in a room with no oxygen, the flame will die. Employers should be able to spot the potential for innovation and then make it their responsibility to develop and grow those innovative qualities.

This is a big problem for our country. Google’s experience is that Irish companies are great at attracting international talent but quite poor at nurturing and developing indigenous talent.

The fact that Google does not have a tiered hierarchy is beneficial to this double-sided innovation process. There is a flat business structure and fair opportunity for idea generation is promoted at all levels and from all corners of the company.

5.   Innovation as a part of the job spec

Ok, so we have agreed innovation is messy. However, that does not mean managers can exclaim ‘I declare you FREE…now go forth, my pretties – innovate!’ and then expect results.

There needs to be a loose structure within which the creative process is gently encouraged.

So how are Googlers innovating when they’re not dreaming about moon cables and driverless cars?

Through the 70/20/10 paradigm. This is the framework by which Google employees are expected to carry out their weekly tasks:

70% of an employee’s working week is taken up with their core job tasks; 20% is taken up by working on new projects related to their core job; and, if they wish, 10% of their week is taken up with innovative projects and ideas unrelated to their core work.

If group work or innovative leadership has sparked an idea within an employee, they are given the time (10% of their working week) and the resources to work on this idea. One day out of every fortnight on blue sky thinking is a pretty big commitment.

Employees are also put into teams to encourage group thinking, and are given the opportunity to attend workshops in other areas of the business as a way to encourage daily innovation.

6.   Speed beats perfect – Fail fast

One of adjustments Googlers need to make upon joining the company is adapting to the pace at which Google expect things to happen.

Their culture understands that when you try out so many new things, many of them will fail. So it’s ok to fail. Just don’t take too long about it. Fail fast and learn the lessons from it. If it needs a tweak, then do that, and get it out there again. If its never going to work, bin it and move on to the next one.

Google Glasses is a prime example, as it is being taken off the market to be made better. This means making contingency plans and being prepared and ready for all elements of failure.

The bottom line is, innovation should not be seen as a scheduled task but as a way of thinking, and it is the product of an open, healthy environment that is prepared to create the space and time for it. It is not something we can keep tidy and neat, choosing when to switch it on or off. To keep it alive we need to be constantly questioning our position and the position of our competitors, and to keep an open mind to all the technical possibilities or even the impossibilities within our industry.

As the first Irish content marketing agency, 256 Media are Irish innovators in digital, so if you’re looking for ways to break from the norm and to innovate your business, then why not Get in Touch?

About Alison Lawlor

Ali is a Content Marketing Manager at 256. She is an English literature and advertising graduate with a love for all things wordy.