Google has codified a new set of “9 principles of innovation”, updating a version unveiled by former executive Marissa Mayer in 2008.
Chief evangelist Gopi Kallayil told today’s Dreamforce conference that he and some colleagues sat down “a couple of months ago” to figure out what drove innovation at Google today, and how the ideas may apply to other organisations.
Google’s former VP of Search Marissa Mayer – who is now CEO of Yahoo – went public with a similar set of principles five years ago. Susan Wojcicki, Google’s Senior Vice President of Advertising, suggested a list of 8 pillars in 2011.
Kallayil said the sets were “equally valid”, with the latest principles most significant in the organisation currently.
“Given the current scale and size of the company – and as we get into biosciences and other types of things – there are other innovation principles that are surfacing,” he told Business Insider Australia.
“It doesn’t mean that the other principles are becoming irrelevant, but they’ve morphed.”
Here are Google’s new 9 principles:
- Innovation comes from anywhere.
This principle, which also made Mayer’s 2008 list, points out that innovation is in nobody’s job title at Google, but is everyone’s responsibility.
Ideas come from anyone from the very top of the organisation to lower ranks.
Google Glass, for example, was driven by co-founder Sergey Brin, while it was Google Health product manager Dr Roni Zeiger who suggested that the search giant inject suicide prevention information into related searches as a public service.
- Focus on the user.
This, again, is a long-standing Google principle. The company encourages employees to build products with the user – not profits – in mind, and “revenue issues take care of themselves”, Kallayil says.
- Think 10x, not 10%
This is a new one, driven by Larry Page’s preference for radical innovation over incremental improvements.
The principle of making a tenfold difference is what drove projects like Project Loon, for which Google is using high-altitude balloons to bring wi-fi connections to remote areas.
Google’s 10x thinking also drove the Google Books project back in 2004, Kallayil said, recalling that technical limitations back then meant that Marissa Mayer had to physically flip pages to scan each book into Google’s database with a metronome to guide her timing.
- Bet on technical insights.
This is a new take on Mayer’s principle: “Data is apolitical.”
Kallayil highlighted Google’s self-driving cars as an example of how Google was able to tie together its various information assets into a new, innovative project.
“It all started with reading in The Economist that more than a million traffic deaths are caused a year by human error. The 10x thinking was if you removed humans from the picture then cars would be much safer.
“We had the building blocks to make that possible,” he said, highlighting Google Maps and artificial intelligence technology built on data from Street View cars.
- Ship and iterate.
This is a new iteration of Mayer’s principle of “Innovation, not instant perfection”.
According to Kallayil, Google tends to rely on user feedback to guide its product development – for example, just look at how Gmail remained in beta for three years.
- 20% time.
This is another long-standing principle, in which Google encourages employees to spend 20% of their time pursuing ideas they are passionate about.
Products and features that came from this principle include Google News, Google Alerts and off-road Google Maps Street View.
Google mechanical engineer Dan Ratner was frustrated when he couldn’t map his route to a hotel in Spain because the roads were too narrow for Google’s street view cars to navigate. Google now mounts Street View cameras on tricycles and in wearable backpacks for intrepid trekkers.
- Default to open.
Mayer previously talked up sharing as much information as possible on Google’s intranet to facilitate collaboration. The new set of principles takes this one step further, with a view to tapping into ideas from the public.
“There are seven billion people … the smartest people will always be outside Google,” Kallayil notes. “By defaulting to open, we’re tapping into the creativity outside of Google.”
He highlights for example the Android operating system, which now boasts 1.4 million new activations a day and a healthy ecosystem of applications and app developers.
The viral “Chubby Bunny” video is another example of how Googlers invited the public to create product demo videos to use for marketing.
- Fail well.
There’s a long list of failed Google products, including Buzz, Gears, Panoramio and Wave. At Google, Kallayil says failure is a “badge of honour”.
“There is no stigma against failing,” he says. “There is a belief in the company that if you don’t fail often enough, you’re not trying hard enough.
“Once we realise a product is not working out, we kill it, but the thing with products is they morph – we take all the best ideas and redeploy them.”
Google’s social networking platform, Google Plus, for example, incorporates elements of Google Buzz, Wave, Orkut and OpenSocial.
- Have a mission that matters.
This principle was absent from Mayer’s list in 2008 but featured prominently on Wojcicki’s list in 2011.
“This is the most important one,” Kallayil says. “Everybody at Google has a very strong sense of mission and purpose … we seriously believe that the work that we do has a huge impact on millions of people in a positive way.”
One example, raised by Wojcicki, was how Googlers launched a Person Finder tool within two hours of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in early 2011 to help victims and families locate each other.
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