google, social networks, 3d

Google’s Innovation Secret

Have you ever wondered how many products Google has in total?

The answer is 257!

The products range from web services, such as the search engine, YouTube, and Google Drive, to hardware, such as smartphones, smart speakers, and everything in between.

This is mindblowing! Google is probably the company with the biggest and most diverse creative output in the world.

Not only has Google released many products, but a lot of them are the most popular in their respective product categories.

Several of Google’s products have over 1 billion users. And some of the products have been game-changing. An example is Google Docs, which turned the word-processing into a collaborative activity.

In their book, How Google Works, the former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, and Jonathan Rosenberg, who is the former Senior Vice President of Products at Google, reveal some of the secrets behind Google’s success.

One of the secrets is the innovation system: 70-20-10. It was invented by Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin.

The system describes how the employee’s time is structured:

  • 70% of the employees’ time is used on Google’s biggest products and services. This involves primarily projects related to the search engine and advertising.
  • 20% of their time is spent on emerging products. This involves smaller projects that have proven successful in the early stages.
  • And the last 10% is spent on new and more risky projects. Here the employees enjoy complete creative freedom to create whatever they want.

Eric Schmidt talked about this system on The Tim Ferriss Show. What he said is this:

“The question was: how do we organize our resources in terms of core things, new things, and experimental things? […] you need the 70% because you need the revenue, the revenue growth. You need the 20% because you need to extend your franchise, and you need the 10%, which is crucially important for the things that you will want to do five or 10 years from now.”

Many of the 10 and 20 percent projects have led to some of Google’s most successful products.

But why does it work?

Here are six reasons why this approach works so well.

1. Structure

By structuring innovation, Google gives it a high priority.

By making innovation an integral part of the employees’ workweek, innovation becomes an integral part of working at Google.

At the same time, Google makes sure that the experimental projects do not get in the way of working on improving their core business.

On The Tim Ferriss Show, Eric Schmidt said:

“I believe that you can systematically manage innovation. You’ll never be able to pick which of the 50 ideas are going to be the next billion dollar corporation, it’s too hard. But you can manage it so that when you get these shots on goal, you identify them, you get a chance to fund them. You look at them. You can systematize innovation even if you can’t completely predict it.”

With this system, Google produces a lot of ideas and prototypes. Predicting which concept will turn out to be a success is really hard. However, by giving the products a chance and letting the engineers work on them, it gets easier to see if the product is worth putting more resources into.

2. Culture

The system is backed up by an organizational culture where being a “Googler” means being creative and spending time on innovation.

If you look at Google’s offices around the world, you will notice that they do not look like normal offices. They look like playgrounds. The interior is very colorful, there are slides and all kinds of crazy things.

Why? Because it creates an atmosphere that is informal, relaxed, and playful. These qualities generate a good environment for the employees to be creative. Moreover, the offices are designed to make it easy for the employees to collaborate.

3. Motivation

By giving the employees space for their own creative projects, the employees reach the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: self-actualization.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs describes different levels of motivation. The highest level is called self-actualization, which means working towards achieving your full potential.

Reaching the self-actualization level often involves working on projects where the employee has a high level of influence. These projects can be of a creative nature and often result in personal and professional growth. If the employees grow and get better, then Google as a company will too.

If the employees’ only do what they are told, Google is not utilizing their employee’s talents and full potential. By giving the “Googlers” space to come up with their own ideas and act on them, Google gets a lot more out of their intelligent and creative engineers and designers.

The Googlers work on projects that have the potential to change billions of people’s lives. As a result, the employees will feel like they are making a difference and are shaping the future, which can be highly motivating as well.

Google attracts some of the best engineers and designers available. They are highly intelligent, very creative and they love what they do. As a result, Schmidt and Rosenberg state:

“In fact, 20 percent time is more like 120 percent time, since it often occurs on nights and weekends. But it can also be stored up and used all at once”

4. Freedom

As they say in How Google Works:

“It’s not about time, it’s about freedom”.

The freedom to create whatever you want can be highly motivating, which is one of the reasons why becoming an entrepreneur is appealing to so many people these days.

In a way, the employees get to be entrepreneurs inside Google for 10% of the week or maybe more if they decide to take their projects home at the end of the workday.

5. Constraints

Creativity loves constraints. With limited time and resources, you are forced to be creative and find new ways to solve problems.

In How Google Works, the authors recall how Google Books started with a very crude prototype made by co-founder Larry Page: A camera took photos timed to a metronome while another person turned the pages.

Later, Sergey Brin used the same approach to prototype and test the concept behind Google Street View. He took a picture every few seconds from the passenger seat in a car. The concept has since evolved into the product we use today.

6. Fail Fast

The strategy of releasing early beta-versions of new products is a big part of why the 70-20-10 model works for Google.

As Eric Schmidt told Tim Ferriss: It’s hard to predict what idea will be the next big thing.

By releasing products early on, Google can get real user feedback, which the company can use to either improve or kill the product. This approach is a much smarter way to build a product than to spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars on a project that could fail.

In closing

If you want to dive deeper into how Google handles innovation among other things, I highly recommend that you check out the book How Google Works.

How are YOU going to use this strategy? Please let me know by writing a comment.



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