Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Google's New Innovation Culture

by Sanjay Dalal, founder & CEO, oGoing

Just How Valuable Is Google's "20% Time"?

Michael Schrage of Harvard Business Review summed it up after Google announced that it is cutting back the 20% free time given to "all" employees to "innovate". Google's innovation culture is being shaped as much by the performance data of its people as by their technical intuitions and insights. In other words, tomorrow's Google won't embrace 20% "free time" for everyone; innovation best practice will mean some individuals and teams will have as much discretionary time as they need while others will have virtually nil. Read more

Now that Google has put some rules  around “20% time,” the one day a week an employee spends on side projects, people are having a field day forecasting the end of innovation at the company that claims to “use their powers for good, not evil.” To those people, I ask one question: Can a company in today’s highly competitive environment survive if they allow 1/5th of their employees’ time to be devoted to work that has no clear alignment with the company’s strategy? Read more

What Google Tells Us About Their Innovation Culture:
"It’s really the people that make Google the kind of company it is. We hire people who are smart and determined, and we favor ability over experience. Although Googlers share common goals and visions for the company, we hail from all walks of life and speak dozens of languages, reflecting the global audience that we serve. And when not at work, Googlers pursue interests ranging from cycling to beekeeping, from frisbee to foxtrot.

We strive to maintain the open culture often associated with startups, in which everyone is a hands-on contributor and feels comfortable sharing ideas and opinions. In our weekly all-hands (“TGIF”) meetings—not to mention over email or in the cafe—Googlers ask questions directly to Larry, Sergey and other execs about any number of company issues. Our offices and cafes are designed to encourage interactions between Googlers within and across teams, and to spark conversation about work as well as play."

Google's Eight Innovation Pillars
"Nurturing a culture that allows for innovation is the key. As we’ve grown to over 26,000 employees in more than 60 offices, we’ve worked hard to maintain the unique spirit that characterized Google way back when I joined as employee #16.
What’s different is that, even as we dream up what’s next, we face the classic innovator’s dilemma: should we invest in brand new products, or should we improve existing ones? We believe in doing both, and learning while we do it. Here are eight principles of innovation we’ve picked up along the way to guide us as we go." Read more

Haydn Shaughnessy at Forbes: Google is usually associated with a fairly loose innovation model -the 20% free time its engineers can claim but in fact its innovations are systematic in the infrastructure:
     We are constantly innovating, figuring out new more efficient ways to remove heat from machines while reducing pollution. We publish our findings, after they have been vetted. After a few years, our designs start showing up in other companies’ datacenters. We only waste 7-8% of our power on overhead. The norm *used* to be 50-100%. YouTube was converted to use Google technology. It would not be what it is without Google’s expertise in networking and distributed computing. Android was barely more than an idea when Google merged with it. Google made it what it is.

So its (present) innovation model?
  • It is platform and ecosystem-based in its customer facing innovations
  • Continuous improvement in infrastructure
  • Radical adjacencies to become more integrated (deliveries) and to look for a new disruption (Glass, driverless cars)
  • Device innovations, which are proving difficult to generate along with supply chains that it lacks experience of
  • Increasingly it is becoming design-centric
  • Bench-time – a factor most companies now deprive their engineers of
John Webb of Innovation Excellence shared this insight in early 2013:
9. Offer Room to Play Around 
A practiced method for promoting intrapreneurship is to give individuals allocated time away from their ‘day jobs’ in order to encourage their creative processes and support them in the development of new ideas and initiatives. This has generally taken two forms: internal one-hit ‘hackathons’, and providing ongoing ‘flex time’ or ‘tinker time’ to experiment with new ideas and side projects. These schemes provide employees with the room to play around outside of the mental confines and stresses of their prescribed roles. The concept has become increasingly popular across innovation-led companies, notably within the tech space, including the likes of Hewlett-Packard, Apple and Google where their “20 Percent Time” has famously given birth to products including Gmail, Google Earth, and Gmail Labs. Set aside innovation time allows individuals and teams scope outside of their daily responsibilities to scout for and test different ideas and approaches, which creates intrapreneurial value without diminishing or distracting from the ongoing function and development of the core business. One of the challenges with ’20 Percent Time’ is that it can be unfocused and lacking output; to counter this, LinkedIn launched their ‘InCubator’ program in December 2012, essentially operating as an internal ‘startup’ incubator. Engineers can get 30 to 90 days away from their regular work to develop ideas of their own into products; the program is highly structured with rounds of judging, including a final round with founder Reid Hoffman and CEO Jeff Weiner, to filter ideas and extract the most viable and potentially profitable new products. - See more 

Google 'Doodles' Reflect Company's Culture of Innovation

Brian Padden, Voice of America, stated that: Google's culture of innovation, the relaxed environment, the mix of work and play helps the creative process. Ryan Germick, the chief Doodler, said their value to the company isn't found in a traditional business plan. “Ahh, the existential question of 'why'? We are here to surprise and delight our users and to humanize Google,” he said. Doodle Engineer Khris Hom animates artists' drawings. He said he first got involved with the team as part of a program to nurture innovation and growth. “My involvement started out as a 20 percent project, which is a phenomenon at Google, where engineers get to spend one day a week or 20 percent of their time working on whatever they want. So I was building some little animation, and someone from the Doodle team saw them and said can you do that on the home page, and I’ve been having a blast here since,” he said. Read more

Google's culture battle: Innovation versus focus?

According to Derek C. Slater at FierceCIO: Death of Reader product raises question of whether employees will put forward their best ideas in Google's changing culture. Some leaders are innovators; some aren't. Some are willing to take risks to find exceptional growth; others are better at focusing on operational excellence for steady performance. Read more

It is dizzying to learn about Google's innovation culture. The answer perhaps lies in a simple fact: Google grew up too fast, and is still growing up! Google is an entirely new company now, and as a public company, has to focus on the three pillars: innovation excellence, operational excellence and distribution excellence. Not many people thought of Google as a company that could survive for 20 years, much less 10 years. Now that Google is closing in on 20 years, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have to be thinking of what it will take for Google to be around for the next 80 years... what will be theirs and Google's legacy. Google has to put some structure around their unstructured innovation models of yesteryears in terms of business viability. This doesn't mean that Google won't take risks... but the risks will be calculated, more deliberate. And hence the new thinking. But knowing Google, this thinking is apt to change in the next few years.
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