Google’s Principles of Innovation, according to Marissa Mayer


I recently found this old video of Marissa Mayer speaking at Stanford about Innovation at Google.  The talk was organized around 9 slogans, and each was accompanied by practical examples:

  1. Ideas come from everywhere.  “In an environment like Google … we expect everyone to have ideas: our engineers come up with ideas, some things come top-down, some ideas come from our users.
  2. Share everything you can.  “Its amazing – when you take a lot of smart, motivated people and give them access to a huge amount of information – how well informed their choices are about what they want to work on and what needs to be done.”
  3. You’re brilliant.  We’re hiring.  “It’s really wonderful to work in an environment with really smart people […] because it challenges you to think and work on a different level than you really thought possible.”
  4. A license to pursue dreams.   “I went and mapped the last six months of 2005 – all of the Google product launches and all of our feature launches – and tried to determine which came from 20% time, and which came through the normal process, and the answer was 50%. […] It turns out when you take really smart people, and give them really good tools, they build really beautiful amazing things that are really exciting and they do it with a lot of passion and momentum.   […]  The key isn’t that it’s 20% – or one day a week.  I think that our engineers and product developers see [20% time] and they realize that this is a company that really trust them, that really wants them to be creative and really wants them to explore whatever it is that they want to explore.  And it’s that license to do whatever they want that really ultimately fuels a huge amount of creativity and a huge amount of innovation.”
  5. Innovation, not instant perfection.  “When we were small we launched really rough things that weren’t very good all the time – but the key is iteration.  When you launch something can you learn enough about the mistakes that you made, and learn enough from your users that you ultimately iterate really quickly? […]  A lot of time people say ‘look at Google, there’s all these innovative things’ and they remember the high points and they’ll ask me sometime ‘have you ever made mistakes?’ and the answer is that we make mistakes every-time, every-day – thousands of things wrong with Google and its products that we know we could fix – but if you launch things and iterate really quickly people forget about those mistakes and they have a lot of respect for how quickly you build the product up and make it better.”
  6. Data is apolitical.  “The internal politics inside Google have remained minimal compared to other corporations of its size because we rely so much on the data.  We do so much measurement, that you don’t have to worry if your idea will get picked because you’re the favorite or will someone else’s idea get picked because they’re the favorite – or because they have a better relationship with the decision-maker?  The decisions get made based on data – and that really frees people from a lot of those types of concerns.”
  7. Creativity loves constraint.  “A lot of times when you constrain your thoughts, that’s when you ultimately see a lot of innovation happen.”
  8. Users not money.  “A lot of people say ‘Aren’t you worried as you roll out new products, will there be a business model there?’  And to be honest we don’t really worry about that.  We worry a lot about whether we have users, but we don’t worry a lot about the business model in the beginning because, it turns out – especially on the web and especially with consumer products – money follows consumers. The consumers may choose to subscribe to things themselves.  Advertisers also follow consumers, so if you manage to amass a huge amount of users, and you’re doing something that they use every single day, you’ll find a way to monetize it.  This is the ‘if you build it they will come’ strategy.”
  9. Don’t kill projects, morph them.  “In an environment like Google where you have really smart people, if an idea has actually managed to make it out the door – there’s a real product there and theres a lot of people working on it – usually there’s some kernel of truth in it; there is something interesting and innovative in that space and it may be that the way we packaged it or the way we implemented it isn’t quite right.  But it’s important to recognize that that really smart and talented person got interested and excited about this for a reason and there’s probably something that you can do to ultimately make it successful.”

Interesting stuff.  And fortunately you don’t have to have assembled the smartest people in the world to benefit from these principles.  Although if you have, they still help.

About brendansterne

Sr Director, Product Incubator
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1 Response to Google’s Principles of Innovation, according to Marissa Mayer

  1. Sean Ramsey says:

    I’m a big believer in #7 – Creativity does indeed love constraints, which is why one should never buy the misguided rhetoric from development that in an Agile philosophy the backlog is the only constraint.

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