Analysis of Innovation at Google

February 19, 2009 · Posted in innovation, strategy · Comment 

Innovation at Google

February 10, 2009 · Posted in innovation · Comment 

Google is great example for people interested in innovation because they do many things right as well as wrong. They create a lot of great innovations but mostly through brute force and a lot of luck.

By examining Google I hope to show you how to achieve the greatest possible innovation success. If you haven’t read my Blog then you might be asking, “Who are you and why should I listen to what you have to say?” Fair enough.

For over 25 years I’ve help create and bring to market dozens of innovations worth billions of dollars. As result of my experience I discovered a system to reliably create targeted high value innovations on demand using resources you already have or can easily acquire.

I have a special connection to Google. Larry Page, one of the founders of Google attended U of M. He was an undergrad when I was there preparing for a PhD in a new area of Information Theory. He used some of the exact techniques I helped develop when he started Google.

In 1992, before there was such a thing as the web, I was at Apple writing white papers describing what the web would look like and how to build it. Some of that work led to the software development methodology called Agile. Google is an avid user of Agile.

In 1994, years before the founders of Google even met, I was implementing the web at Hewlett Packard. We already knew that search was a major concern. We solved the problem internally at HP by using the Topic Real Time engine, the same technology the CIA used to scan and categorize millions of documents per second. One of the insights we implemented was sharing search criteria so people could benefit from the human contribution to search. This is the exact same innovation, although implemented differently, that launched Google. So that should answer a little bit about my understanding of the web, search and why what I have to say about innovation will help you achieve the greatest success.

In the presentation, Douglas Merrill hits an early innovation home run when he says, “Google tries to answer the question you meant”. That is exactly the point of innovation. Give you what you want. The search term “Apples” plural returns pages about the fruit. The singular term “Apple” mostly returns pages about the computer company. This is a great understanding of the desired Outcome.
The customer doesn’t care how to do it, they just want the result they desire. Inventions are about how, Innovations are about what customers’ want.

The best definition of innovation is:

“Satisfy customer’s unmet desires.”

When you get the definition of innovation correct you suddenly see where a lot of confusion comes from and how to fix it.

Douglas says there are three types of innovations:

  • Incremental
  • Incremental with side effects
  • and Transformational.

That is non-sense. Customers don’t care about those distinctions and neither should you. All customers care about is how well their desires are met. Period.

As an innovator all you care about is how many customers you can satisfy for the least cost and effort. Sometimes the so called “transformational” innovations are the cheapest and easiest way for you to get the greatest return on investments. Other times the small improvements are the way to go. That is more of a strategy decision than anything fundamental about innovation. But for you to make those strategy decisions you need to know all the possible innovations for your industry. That can only be done with the Predictive Innovation Method. You can find out more about that on my blog or at

Another quote from the presentation is, “Innovation for it’s own sake isn’t useful.” The heart of that statement is absolutely correct. If a change doesn’t satisfy customers’ unmet desires then its not innovation. It might be an invention, but its not innovation. If it fails to satisfy an unmet desire it doesn’t innovate. Ideas that could be innovations still can fail because of poor implementation. So innovation is more than just ideas. Innovation is thinking plus doing. In fact there are 7 essential elements to a complete innovation system and idea formation isn’t even the 1st step.

Now here is the biggest mistake most people make about innovation.
“Users don’t know what they want, but they know what problems they have.” Wrong Wrong WRONG! Users know exactly what they want. What they don’t know is how to get it. If a user expresses a problem they tell you “I want this, you give me that, and its not what I want.”
In the broadest sense customers desires are

“What I want, where I want, when I want, the way I want, with whom I want, for the price I want with no hassle.”

All innovations progress towards that ideal vision. Each new innovation gets closer to that ideal for one or more aspects of the product.

He said customers didn’t know they wanted some of the features that Gmail offered. Not true. Gmail did not do anything that people haven’t wanted for their written communication since the beginning of time. It did some of the things better but it didn’t do anything new. In fact the specifications for Gmail could have been written thousands of years ago.

Whether its e-mail or letters written on parchment the essential aspects of reading written communication have not changed and never will. The desired Outcomes are the same for reading all written communication. You want to find what you are seeking when you are seeking it and process the important information in a way that is useful for the task you are doing. The only thing that changes is how well that is done and the methods for doing it. Any product that does not at least partially achieve all essential Outcomes will fail to satisfy customers.

The simple formula for what will be an innovation is “it achieves each of the essential outcomes for the task the customer is trying to do and achieves one outcome or more better than what is on the market.”

Too much bureaucracy kills innovation. Companies rarely make money from doing something new. They make money from doing the same thing many times. So the types of controls for a manufacturing or sales organization won’t work for innovation. But there can and should be effective controls.

Google got lucky to hit it big before the Dot Com bust when money was easy to get. They can afford to “wait as long as they can to kill innovations”. That method just won’t work for most businesses. You don’t have the resources to fiddle with ideas until they fizzle out. Plus, you might not have the time to experiment before competitors beat you to market. When he says, “wait as long as you can to kill innovations”, he is really saying they don’t have a reliable method for recognizing innovations early on.

One thing that is always true about innovation is it will be different from what has come before. That means the entrenched experts will hate really good innovations. But, customers will love it. What you need is a way to let real customers tell you as quickly as possible if you are doing the right thing. There are two parts to doing this.

First, start with an outcome based innovation method, such as Predictive Innovation. The outcomes never change so if the idea satisfies all the outcomes then its good. If it doesn’t satisfy all the outcomes kill it right away. Second you need to directly ask customers “does it satisfy the outcome better than what is already available”, “Do you care about satisfying this outcome better at this time”, and “are we satisfying it properly?” Only customers can answer those questions. Ask the customers as soon as possible and as frequently as possible.

The spelling correction and search suggestion feature of Google search engine came from watching what customers actually do and like. Regardless of what experts say the only real expert is the customer. They might not be able to tell you what they want but if you watch them you will see what they want. Find it out and deliver it.

Three suggestions he makes really boil down to the same concept. He says, “Allow people to work on things they are passionate about.” All innovations are projects. They have a beginning and an end. Passion is very important for pursuing anything through to completion. Passion is especially important for things that are new. So this rule is very meaningful to moving from the idea to the delivered innovation.

Passion can’t be forced on someone, it only thrives when people have freedom. Give employees freedom to follow their passions. Give customers freedom to walk away and also freedom to personalize what you offer them. Their improvements will often point you to the next big innovation.

Use your products. He presents this as a rule but its not always appropriate. Unless you actually benefit from using your product your input won’t be meaningful. Of course if you could benefit from your product and you don’t use it then there is a serious problem. But if you really aren’t the target market of your product you should be intimately involved with people who are and do use your product. Talk to them, watch what they do and don’t do. Make sure you understand what they really want to achieve, then figure out how to help them do it.

And he finished up by saying that leadership is essential to creating diverse teams and that is important to innovation. Different talents, skills and points of view can be very helpful to innovation. In the real world most companies have to use the resources they already have. Fortunately, if you use the right system you can achieve great innovation success. In the end making the decisions that create success in the truest sign of leadership.

Visitors to My Blog

March 18, 2008 · Posted in innovation · Comment 

Back in 2004 I created a web statistics tool I called Twinkle Maps. It would show views to a page on a map over time so it looked like little lights twinkling across the map. This was exceptionally good for tracking viral spread. I’ve stopped using that tool since Google Analytics handles a bunch of other things as well as a map component. It’s not as useful for viral marketing analysis but it does more than what I need on a daily basis.

I look at the analytics once a day and study them in more detail once a week. I’ve found some fascinating results. Today I found someone using MSN with the search term “red dwarf” visited my blog. I posted an article about the BBC and Creative Commons licenses that mentioned Red Dwarf and that is what the person found. It seemed odd that the person would find my blog based on that search term so I tried the search myself. My site does not show up on the first 32 pages. How far down the search was the person looking?

Raser Inc. has visited my blog 4 times, once going to the contact page but they didn’t contact me. Why? Only 10% of people that go to the contact page contact me. Perhaps they were looking for my phone number. I added my phone number, lets see how many calls I get.

I get a lot of traffic from universities. Here are all the universities and colleges that visited my blog this year.

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