Friday, November 29, 2013

Technology leadership and innovation at Google - how does this relate to 'normal' organisations?

I came across the following article by Google on 'the 8 pillars of innovation' a few weeks ago and it got me thinking... what is innovation and technology leadership for a 'normal' company?

'Normal' companies are not Google... but there are many companies that would *love* to be 'like Google' (at least in some respects e.g. market cap, revenue streams, etc.) and so do some of the ideas presented in the article apply?

In many ways, companies like Google, and Apple, and others, are synonymous with innovation. The visible innovation occurs in the market, with new products and services that are offered. The less visible innovation is happening on the inside - as illustrated in the article and also in Hollywood films like 'The Internship' ;) lol

Its hard to imagine a 'disconnect' between the internal culture and the external culture. They may not be the same in every respect but there is no doubt IMHO that there is significant congruence between the two.

I think that is one reason why when I see a focus on client-facing-innovation I get excited because it probably means that there is a very innovative company on the 'inside'.  It makes me want to be part of it :)

One of the interesting points made in the article is how Google handles 'failure' - never fail to fail!  That part reminded me a lot of when I first became a consultant, at Simsion Bowles & Associates (good 'ol SBA)... Graeme (Simsion) did not mind failures, they were a chance to learn, the only rule was 'fail fast and learn quickly' ;) SBA was a very innovative company, at least in my own experience to that point, and its was a really fun place to work and to grow.

As an IT guy, one of the 'spin offs' I look for in an innovative company is how innovative they are in their use of technology.  I just hate it when IT is seen as 'pure expense' or a 'necessary evil' that makes it really hard to enjoy my work... in my career I have had a gut full of 'bureaucratic IT departments' pushing their view of how technology can and can't be used... the worst thing is its done from a purely 'selfish' or 'ignorant' 'don't create work for me' point of view :-/

As a disclaimer, let me say that last part is not a criticism, it is more of a challenge!

Every company needs to have some control over their technology, its cost, impact, etc. but I think it sometimes goes too far... people so far removed from the 'customer' think they are in charge and that they can make up the requirements... this is where it all goes pear shaped IMHO.

The 'effect' of client-facing-innovation is a catalyst to putting the focus squarely back on the client and their needs and when this happens it can help 'obliterate' the way companies think about technology (to borrow an expression from Michael Hammer in his famous 'don't automate, obliterate' article in the HBR).

The 'spin off' winners are the internal staff who get to share in the innovations created for clients and, to coin another term, 'the cobblers children will *finally* get new shoes'... because the shoes will have been designed for the client and, as we all know, there is nothing more enlightening than 'walking a mile in another person's (the clients) shoes' ;)

I hope our 'cobblers' in your organisation are up for it, there are a lot of new shoes to make ... welcome to the revolution ;) **1

**1 I had a choice between the song 'Children of the Revolution' by T-Rex or Tommy Lee Jones' quote from 'Under Siege' ... I went with the song :)