Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dan Cobley’s Ten Paths to Innovation

Image by Dublin Web Summit.

Dan Cobley, the Marketing Director of  Google Europe, gave the keynote at last week’s Dublin Web Summit. He outlined ten principles Google have adopted that could make your company more innovative.

1: Hire the right people who fit your ethos.
He showed a great example of a Google recruitment advert. It was essentially a blank billboard containing  {A really complex equation}.com. If you had the smarts to resolve the equation and find the URL, then you could get a job interview.

2: Ideas come from everywhere.
Don’t always look to product experts: look for the passion.
Google has an internal ‘Dragon’s Den’ programme where new initiatives can be proposed and mentored. They also run an ideas-based online forum. Cobley cited Google’s Mapmaker initiative. This is crowd-sourced map-making overlaid onto satellite imagery, which is now generating rapid iteration, high-quality detailed maps in countries that never had good ordinance survey for historical reasons.

3: Share all information.
As an example, within Google itself, not only are everyone’s internal Key Performance Indicators are public, but their grades and scores are all available online as well.

4: Data drives all decisions.
An engineering mindset based on data-driven testing is a core attribute at Google. For example they tested 42 different shades of blue on the link headlines in adverts. (OK, so that makes the designer in me cringe a lot, but the eventual outcome of that process now adds $230m to their bottom line annually.)

5: Launch early and often: kill fast.

6: Balance your resources.
Google spends 70% of their time on core business, 20% on related extensions on that core and 10% on future-looking exploratory work (such as their autonomous software-driven electric cars initiative). You need to ensure you shall be relevant in the years ahead.

7: Prioritise ruthlessly, based on potential and efficiency. 
Four quadrants:
Lean Execution | Scale Aggressively
Kill Quickly | Test Quickly

8: Do quirky stuff.
Google coded a fully-working Pac-Man game into the Google Doodle on their home page. People ask him why his company would invest N-thousand man hours to create something that then wasted approximately 4.8 billion of global working hours?

9: Put users first, then look at money.
Build it and the money will come...

10: Bet on the future (and on Moore’s Law).
When Google bought YouTube they were advised that the bandwidth costs would cripple them over time. Similarly with Gmail, at launch they offered significantly more storage than all other cloud mail services. But in both cases they have crested the technology wave and stayed ahead of the game. Bandwidth costs have dropped as YouTube adoption and usage has soared. Gmail memory allocations are increased week-on-week. 

When asked to focus within this list, Cobley choose points one, four and ten as his key points.

I have been blogging some of my notes from a selection of the presentations and roundtables at the fifth Dublin Web Summit this week as I process them.