via Kristen Le Mesurier
Everyone wonders how Google does it. Now a $145-billion company by market capitalisation, revenue has grown by over 50% every year since 2002.

Clever and motivated employees is a common guess. Another is the playground Google has created for adults – free gourmet food, an outdoor wave pool, an indoor gym, and those company scooters used to whiz around on between buildings. Great ideas are sure to follow all that freedom and hilarity, right?

It’s true that these factors are part of the picture. After all, freedom has a lot to do with creativity and the ownership of ideas.

But the philosophies and systems operating under the surface are far more considered and methodical than all of that fun would have you believe.

Fast Company’s website last week listed Google’s nine principles of innovation and they touched on so many themes in and around innovation that I’ve been listening podcasts and presentations made by Google’s innovation experts to fill in the detail.

1. Ideas come from everywhere

Unlike the heirarchical approach to running a business usually sees ideas come from the top down, Google expects everyone to have ideas – executives and employees, employees working for companies they have acquired, and users.

Four Australian engineers working for a company Google acquired came up with Google Maps, for example. And Google News was born when one employee, frustrated with having to trawl 15 news sites to get the best and most comprehensive information, built a clustering tool that automatically grouped links to a range fo news sources covering a particular subject on a single website. He then emailed the tool to Google in case it could be used internally, and Google picked it up to develop it further for users.

Google now has an internal ideas forum that encourages employees to post new ideas and throw them open to dissection and improvement to colleagues. This serves two purposes – the best ideas are voted on and quickly rise to the top of the list. Colleagues’ comments also lead to new and better ideas that may have been missed.

2. Share as much information as you can

Before Google listed on the stock exchange, staff were told what revenue was every morning. Google’s innovation guru, Marissa Mayer, says during this presentation that by giving clever, motivated employees almost unfettered access to information about the company they work for, their choices about what they work on and set out to achieve are much more informed. Duplication is minimised, collaboration is fostered, and they feel empowered and trusted.

3. We hire brilliant people

Tell prospective employees that you only hire the best. Google’s experience has been that clever people drive and feed off each other. They set challenges that they may not think they have the capacity to meet on their own.

4. Pursue your dreams

I’d be surprised if you hadn’t heard of Google’s 20% time – the time granted to employees to work on projects that are a passion or personal interest.

Most business owners I’ve spoken to say this is too expensive. You’d lose 20% of productivity, 20% less would get done, it would be equivalent to a 25% pay rise.

Mayer says 20% time rarely works out that way. Few employees set aside Fridays to work on their pet projects. In reality, they’ll spend two to three months working on a particular project then two weeks working on something they enjoy. Or they’ll work on their pet projects on the weekends, or at night.

In any case, this trust pays off. In the final six months of 2005, 50% of Google’s product launches came from 20% time. This means that Google employees produce two and a half times the output you’d expect given the amount of time they have to pursue these projects.

5. Innovation, not instant perfection.

It’s a tough balancing act. Launch a product before it’s perfect and be the first to market? or spend months polishing it and risk a thud when you eventually launch?

Google’s learned that it’s innovation, not perfection, that works best. Its strategy, ‘launch early and often’ gives Google the opportunity to test the idea on the market before months or years has been spent refining a product that the market might not want. It uses the market’s reaction to refine the product straight away.

6. Data is A-political

There’s nothing worse than working for an organisation where politics determines promotions and whose ideas are picked up. Google doesn’t touch an idea without the data that proves it’s worth pursuing.

7. Creativity loves constraints

This sounds counter-intuitive, but total freedom can be intimidating. For example, when I write I scribble a few (less than perfect) sentences on the page straight away and use those as a starting point. If you pen in some constraints it’s easier to think your way creatively out of that box.

8. It’s about customers, not money

Google insists that if it focuses on products that draw users, the money will follow. This works well for online businesses, particularly because advertisers follow users.

9. Don’t kill projects, morph them

How do you know which products to cull and which to keep refining? Google reasons that if the ideas have made it through their filtering process, they are strong enough to have a place somehwere in the business and shouldn’t be culled. Remember that someone got excited about it for a reason.

I hope the list provides more of an idea of how Google has built an entrepreneurial spirit, both on a macro level and on the smaller project level, so that you can pinch the best strategies and morph them to suit your business.
Let me know how you go…

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