Over time I’ve learned, surprisingly, that it’s tremendously hard to get teams to be super ambitious. It turns out most people haven’t been educated in this kind of moonshot thinking. They tend to assume that things are impossible, rather than starting from real-world physics and figuring out what’s actually possible. It’s why we’ve put so much energy into hiring independent thinkers at Google, and setting big goals. Because if you hire the right people and have big enough dreams, you’ll usually get there. And even if you fail, you’ll probably learn something important.
It’s also true that many companies get comfortable doing what they have always done, with a few incremental changes. This kind of incrementalism leads to irrelevance over time, especially in technology, because change tends to be revolutionary not evolutionary. So you need to force yourself to place big bets on the future.
Larry Page — Google Co-founder and CEO
(quoted in Google Wisdom from Larry James’ blog, Larry James Urban Daily).
Call this a reflection on teaching, learning, communicaiton, and readiness…
My friend Larry James (CEO of CitySquare) is all jazzed about the book How Google Works. He is blogging about it, and sending me messages about how good it is. His tweet to me (and others) said:
Reading Schmidt/Rosenberg, “How Google Works.” Refreshing, clear description of innovation at its best!
I have read the sample pages of the book, and am very impressed. And, I guess, I should acknowledge the obvious. If not for Google, I could not function. I use Google’s search engine (I hate it when, on other’s computers, I have to make do with “lesser” search engines set up as default); I depend on Google Drive; I get daily e-mails from people through Google Mail (G Mail); and I suspect I use a number of other services from Google that I do not even realize are connected to Google.
So, Google has innovated, continues to innovate, and in some pretty major ways, they own the world I live in. (The other dominant player in my daily life is Apple. I access all of Google’s “stuff” on my array of Apple devices)..
So, good book, and… very successful company.
But… I thought a lot about Larry’s blog post and tweet. It would help if you knew something about Larry. In the nonprofit sector, Larry is a world-class innovator. He leads what began as a small store-front food pantry, but now is a multi-location astonishing source to meet all kinds of human need, from food, to housing, to medical help, counseling help, job-re-entry, legal help… and other forms of help that I am simply not able to keep up with. He led the Dallas Poverty Task Force, appointed by Mayor Mike Rawlings for that task. The list of his accomplishments, and responsibilities, is long. His organization, CitySquare, is a marvel. And his leadership has been absolutely key to its growth and development.
And, Larry is well read. In multiple fields: social justice; theology; poverty; history; business. Recently, someone who knows him well and has heard him speak for decades (literally, decades!) said “Larry really is smart.” Yes, he is.
So, when he tweets out “Refreshing clear description of innovation at its best” about a book, I pay attention.
But I also thought about this a while. I’ve read a lot of books that deal with innovation. After my first dip into this one, I’m not sure that it would have jumped to the top of my list. It is very good – but there are other very good books dealing with innovation.
And so, I was reminded about a simple truth. (I certainly remember this from my preaching days). There are some themes, some issues, that need constant reinforcement. And, when left to our own devices, we seem to just naturally go “backward,” and adopt the status quo – we just naturally “don’t innovate.”
So, the reality is, we need a steady drumbeat of “don’t forget to focus on this” messaging.
Innovation is one of those themes that needs such constant drumbeat attention.
Consider these lines, from What Matters Now by Gary Hamel:
…successful products and strategies are quickly copied. Without relentless innovation, success is fleeting. …there’s not one company in a hundred that has made innovation everyone’s job, every day. In most organizations, innovation still happens “despite the system” rather than because of it. …innovation is the only sustainable strategy for creating long-term value.
Now, it may be that this is in fact the best book out on innovation. (It’s now further up on my reading stack, after Larry’s encouragement to read it). Or, it may be that Larry was just in the right frame of mind to be especially receptive to the message of this book.
Maybe the lesson is this – what do you really need to work on? Identify it, and then, read, and listen, and read some more, and then some more. Until innovation (if that is your issue) becomes your constant approach to work. And then, keep reading, because you will slip back into your “not innovating right now” mode faster than you realize.