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Innovation at the Speed of Google

August 12, 2010

Last week I had the opportunity to hear Shannon Deegan, Director of People Operations at Google, speak at the Strategic Capability Network.  Not only is Shannon incredibly personable and energetic (we had a chance to chat before his presentation about our hometown of Montreal) but his presentation was fascinating.  He shared how Google attracts and keeps great talent and encourages them to innovate even if it doesn’t directly impact the bottom-line.

While Google doesn’t believe that you can manage creativity and innovation, here is how they encourage it:

  • 20% time Every employee is asked to spend 20% of their time on an innovative project where the goal is cool not profit.  Projects emerge as individuals focus on an interest or passion. For example, Google sky was developed by a group of workers who all share a passion for astronomy.
  • Celebrate mistakes – Awards are given to the team with the most spectacular project bomb. Often project failures provide functionality and ideas that are incorporated into other products. Google’s founders say “We don’t mind if you fail, just try and do it as quickly as possible”. They also encourage learning from mistakes.
  • Transparency – Management is transparent about the operations of the company and encourages employees to ask questions. Every Friday the Founders and Executives present goals, visions to the world wide offices which is the same presentation they give a week later to the board.
  • Give people freedom and they will amaze you – Google isn’t concerned about checking people’s hours. They trust that people will do the job and also do what makes them happy (e.g. get a massage on site or workout)
  • Agility – Create an organization that is agile which for Google means a few things.  They create only as much structure as needed.  They also provide the raw materials so that employees can focus on what they do best and spend little time chasing down a new mouse or someone to fix their computers. In fact Google has Tech Stops and Depots where you can drop in to get your computer fixed or pick up equipment needs.

Granted not every company can be a Google but I believe we can always bring more creativity and innovation to any business.  Think about what strategies you could implement to promote greater innovation and creativity within your organization.

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