How Google stays innovative – Dan Cobley provides top tips at JLA breakfast

This week, I attended a JLA speaker breakfast featuring Dan Cobley, former MD at Google UK, where we discussed the importance of innovation and how businesses like Google facilitate creativity.

Every business, every new venture, product or service offering requires vision.

And the only way to be truly successful in the professional workspace is to always be one step ahead of the competition and ensure that your company keeps moving forward.

No matter how ambitious the plan may seem, you have to start somewhere.

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” Robin Williams

All ideas stem from somewhere, and the best ones often seem outlandish at the time.

The concept of a smartphone that uses voice activated data to communicate in a human way would have seemed implausible to most just a few years ago.

Yet topic modelling and semantic connectivity has enabled smartphone technology to evolve past question and answer interchange; it has now become a suggestive tool that builds a bank of knowledge around personalised behaviours and demographics to offer you tailored information before you’ve even asked for it.

Google recruits people who believe that the impossible can become a reality.

Imagination backed by data is the best way to provide something innovative that sells. There needs to be evidence of a need for something similar in your market, but it shouldn’t already exist.

Dan discussed Google Glass in yesterday’s session.

“Did you know that the average consumer takes their smartphone out of their pocket 150 times a day?

“What if we could create something that is available automatically (focus on user experience) that minimises a consumers need to dip in and out of their pockets continuously throughout the day?”

Google Glass

Google Glass developers were tasked with creating one new prototype per week but they could not use any of the components that they had used in the previous prototype. This forced them to be creative and resourceful, and truly showed what could be done.

Google innovator, Sebastian Thrun, believed that he could make the impossible possible when he explored the idea of driverless cars.

Thrun is building technology for driverless cars to reduce the number of lives lost to roadside accidents each year. These cars, still in development, have logged 140,000 hands-free miles and suffered only 2 accidents – both of which were caused when the stationary driverless car was struck by moving driver operated cars.

Google Car

An idea begins with intuition but must be fuelled by insights. Data is there to help prove your hypothesis or disprove an idea altogether.

Nurturing a culture that allows for innovation is the key.

Taking risks

You must be committed to promoting innovation and risk taking in your organisation to succeed as thought leaders in your industry.

One of the best parts of working on the web is that it is a process of continual improvement. Google watches users from a distance to find out what works and what doesn’t, and then they act on that insight.

When they fail, they fail fast; Google learn from their mistakes and correct them quickly. Knowing that it’s okay to fail can free you up to take risks, because without taking risks, you get left behind.

People remember your successes more than your failures.

Sharing information and ideas

By sharing everything with everyone, you encourage discussion, idea exchange and suggestions which can lead to unexpected and innovative outcomes.

Google employees are kept aware of everything that goes on in their organisation and work in open plan offices, often in small teams, to ensure that hallway conversations and water cooler brainstorms are encouraged as a means of idea generation.

Open source technologies also enable anyone, anywhere, to apply unique skills, perspectives and passions to influence new products and features, and this can be a great way to harness insights and ideas from across the globe.

Co-creation can help generate better ideas, faster, and improve existing ones.

Listen to everyone – customers, partners, advertisers and every person in your team. Beware the boardroom HiPPO.

HiPPO’s (highest-paid-person’s-opinion) are dangerous creatures that pose significant threat to innovation if involved too early in the creative stage.

Teams do need HiPPOs to lead the group and keep everyone on track, but their presence can often overshadow group opinions and stifle creativity due to the influence of authority.

Remember to let the best ideas win—not the loudest voices.

Thanks to JLA and Dan Cobley for such a thought provoking speaker’s breakfast on November 18 2014 at Portland Place, London.



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