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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

When it comes to trying out new solutions, Jones says fear of failure is one of the biggest deterrents of innovation. He says companies that condemn their workers whose ideas are tested and don't go according to plan are sabotaging their opportunity to become more competitive.

"They have created a punishment system in their company that [doesn't] reward people for trying to be innovative. If you punish them as soon as they fail then all you'll have will be a workforce that learns never to try new things because you're going to punish them if it doesn't work out. A lot of companies are in that position."

For innovation to take place, Jones says CIOs and business executives need to create a company culture where workers can feel safe to test their new ideas, where they will have the support from their leaders. For example, Google created its famous '20 per cent' program for workers to spend one-fifth of their working hours on developing and testing a project of their own.

"We are very open to what we call 20 per cent time, allowing employees to work on their own projects. The projects that come out of that, for example, would be Google Mail and Google News. They were products that weren't what the company thought of making, they were products that employees thought of making. They made them in their spare time and the company got behind that to release it to the world."

Including all workers in decisions on new ideas, not only business executives, is important in better determining how successful an idea will be once it reaches market. New projects at Google are piloted by employees within the company's private Gmail laboratories where users' feedback and popularity are used to select products for further development and release.

"We don't have a big committee of executives to decide whether Gmail should have undo for sending [emails] or attachment monitoring -- Gmail users decide that," he says.

"The ones that are pretty popular with Google employees are the ones that customers try. We don't put a total on that, but it makes us feel better about an idea that if in a group of 30,000 employees we can find some who like it. It's about how popular it is with the employees, it's not about how it is popular with the executives in charge of deciding what to launch. It's not very personal like that."

Innovation has to be embedded into the mindset and culture of workers and continually be a part of their work activity, rather than having a one-off program, Jones says. "It's not so much that you want to have an innovation week in the company or an innovation program in the company; you just want an innovative company. So it needs to be an intrinsic feature of the company."


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