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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

Investing in innovation means investing in people, Jones says, not in "paperwork or a mechanism" that could potentially hamper the free, unstructured nature of discovering new ideas. "It's not an army of people marching to some corporate drum. It's a loose affiliation of individuals trying out their own ideas."

However, having an 'unstructured' approach to innovation can lead to inefficiencies, Jones warns, but it's still an effective way of making discoveries. "It's got some big downsides. It's not very efficient because people may do things twice, or get mad because [they might say], 'My thing is like your thing'. It's not without its problems but it's a way to organise for innovation, it's a way to discover the unknown.

"This unstructured play, if you want to think of it that way, is so powerful at coming up with new solutions to new problems. That's what you get in exchange for efficiency with the old problems; you get new solutions to new problems that are more valuable."

Societal change and the economic environment also play a part in innovation, Jones says. When there is an important change in government policy or the economy, this can influence organisations to innovate. He says 'boom times' are obviously good for innovation, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a positive change that can bring out new inventions -- for example, war can bring about the development of new defence technologies and security systems.

With Australia experiencing a carbon tax for the first time ever, Jones says this can be an example of how government policy can result in more innovation in green and energy efficient technologies.

"The externality of the carbon tax is now incorporated into the pricing models that businesses have to face. Therefore, improving that [and making] some new system for capturing pollutants or avoiding it in the first place is going to have an economic value that wasn't perceived before. So innovation in that area is now valuable."

CIOs and business executives need to ensure their policies around innovation are not too rigid and allow for some risk taking in order to discover and develop new ideas. Jones has a 'bold' approach to innovation where he believes not knowing the result of a change is how innovation can happen. It's something CIOs might find themselves being cautious about, but he says it's what can keep businesses ahead of the competition.

"To be innovative, what you need to do is to try things that you aren't sure will work, to try things that could work. If they did work they would transform your business, and if they didn't work you could afford the failure. That's the secret of innovation; to try things before you are certain that they will work.


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