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Searching for winners: Google

Rebecca Merrett | May 8, 2013
Google’s Michael Jones talks about the benefits of being unhappy, frustrated and unstructured, and how to use that to create an innovative organisation

In its never-ending pursuit to find new and different ways to organise and provide access to information -- many of which are successful and some of which are not so successful -- Google has cultivated a culture for innovation. The company's chief technology advocate, Michael Jones, who was chief technologist for Google Earth, Maps and Local Search, shares his experience on creating an innovative organisation.

CIOs know all too well about the importance of innovation and their role in being change agents in an organisation. However, innovation doesn't just happen on its own. Jones says it takes being observant and responsive to problems and being discontented with the ways things are.

"You need to be unhappy about the world or unhappy about some problem to innovate, usually. It's not about making good things better, it's about being frustrated about something and then overcoming that," Jones says.

"One of the requirements for innovation is an organisation that really confronts the problems where everybody looks at what is not going right. It's very easy in an organisation to focus on what works, but you also need to focus on what doesn't work. By learning what doesn't work, then you see where the problems are that need to be solved.

"The innovation I'm concerned about is the kind that would imagine a whole new direction that's not findable having executives task people with improving existing problems. You've got to look for answers to new questions, not the old questions."

Being analytical and data-driven are key to becoming more observant of the problems that are not so obvious in an organisation and identifying new needs, Jones says.

"One way is to have people analyse before, during and after. That is, to become a statistics and data-driven organisation," he says.

"We do not allow, for example, meetings where people say, 'I think we should do this'. People have to say, 'I've measured this and customers prefer this type face versus that type face 3:2'. We tend to not respect people for arguing their opinions but we do respect them for arguing their data. We do a lot of research and a tremendous amount of experiments and we argue and debate internally based on the results from those experiments."

Jones says organisations need to reverse the 'top-down' approach to managing a new problem and involve those who deal directly with the problem in thinking of and deciding on solutions.

"It's important for organisations not to become top-heavy in terms of management and authority," he says.

"An innovative organisation tends to push decisions as low [as possible] in an organisation where they can be logically decided. It empowers people who are new, who are young and who are going to make first time mistakes. But by doing that it gets all of their new, clever insights instead of relying on the one insight from the one person at the top."

 

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