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Google’s 9 Innovation Principles

Google is a fascinating company, not only because of its search engine, but also for its excellence in innovation. Google has the courage to go where no one else has gone before, such as the driver-less car. What can your firm learn from the innovation practices used by Google?

Google’s 9 Innovation Principles

Kathy Chin Leong reveals Google’s 9 principles of innovation in her Fast Company blog. These principles are:

  1. Innovation comes from anywhere
  2. Focus on the user
  3. Aim to be ten times bettergoogle-logo-874x288
  4. Bet on technical insights
  5. Ship and iterate
  6. Give employees 20 percent time
  7. Default to open processes
  8. Fail well
  9. Have a mission that matters

… and why they are so hard to apply

At first glance, these 9 principles may seem easy to apply to your organization. Yet I am sure that with the exception of principle 9, most organizations will struggle with applying them.

Let me explain why these principles are challenging to implement.

1. Innovation comes from anywhere requires you to listen to the ideas of all your employees. Most proposed ideas will not be very useful, but to get to that brilliant one-in-a-million idea, you have to sift through the other 999,999 ideas. In addition, we often have a bias regarding the quality of an idea, based on its source. Will you listen to and accept a brilliant idea contributed by your janitor? Or by someone you don’t like personally? It requires the right culture and a system to tap into the innovative potential of all of your employees.

2. Focus on the user requires your firm to observe and focus on what customers actually try to achieve when using your service or product. If they could, your customers may prefer to avoid your services altogether—legal and medical. That may come as an unpleasant surprise, but it is also an important piece of information and a great starting-point for innovation. Perhaps you can serve some of these customers online, so that you can save your face-to-face time for more valuable interactions with your patients and clients. However, focusing on the user may require offering solutions that are outside your expertise. Are you able and willing to address such requests?

3. Aim to be ten times better requires metrics that assess how your performance compares to that of others. (For hospitals, comparative assessments of patient satisfaction are available and can be used as a benchmark.) But are you striving to be 10 times better, or is just being among the best good enough for you? The problem with being among the best, is that you have to play a never-ending game of catch-up. On the other hand, if you strive to be ten times better, and succeed, the competition will also have to play this game while you get to define the rules.

4. Bet on technical insights. Although most experts such as clinicians and lawyers are experts in their areas, few are up on the latest technology trends. Available technologies like cloud services are not necessarily embraced; instead, their implementation is put at arm’s length because of patient/client privacy concerns. Some of these concerns may be legitimate, but lack of implementation can also be an excuse to postpone change. How can you be cutting-edge when you don’t embrace opportunities current technology provides and try to make them work for you?

5. Ship and iterate implies that you have the guts to deliver half-baked innovations to your customers, learn from the initial users’ experiences, and improve the new services or products from there. This approach is counter-intuitive for many clinicians, who are trained to use only proven methodologies and treatments. Lawyers also tend to be overly cautious. How to ship and iterate in these contexts?

6. Give employees 20 percent time. How are you going to do that in your professional service organization where time is money? Can you afford having your employees be productive only 80% of the time? But is anyone really productive 100% of their time at work? Giving employees 20% means that normal idle time will be spent effectively on ideation and experimentation. Allowing your employees to innovate 20% of their time therefore requires a significantly different perception of what productivity entails.

7. Default to open processes sounds fairly simple compared to the above principles. However, as always, the devil is in the details. Are you willing to give up your intellectual property even if it will benefit your competitors? Are you willing to collaborate with your competitors? In contrast to medicine, where collaborations are often fostered, the legal profession tends to be more competitive.

8. Fail well is arguably the most difficult of Google’s nine principles. After years of training and excellence in your practice, are you willing to risk your reputation? Are you able to stick your neck out so far that you are guaranteed to fail, and then learn from that failure to ensure you get it right the next time? It’s all about learning how to learn, which very few smart people ever had to do during their educational careers because they were always at the top of their class.

9. Have a mission that matters is probably the easiest to implement. Have a mission that matters and start innovating to fulfill your mission. Nothing keeps you from doing that!

Inspired to become the next Google, but struggling to implement these 9 principles? Contact us at: info “at” organizing4innovation “dot” com or visit our website




Argyris (1991) Teaching smart people how to learn, Harvard Business Review

Chin Leong (2013) Google’s 9 principles of innovatio, The Fast Company

 Blindenbach (2014) Listen are you ignoring great innovative ideas