I went back to the June 2006 cover of IN: Inside Innovation, a quarterly supplement I founded at BusinessWeek to look at Marissa Mayer’s 9 Notions of Innovation. The subtitle was ”Marissa Mayer, The Talent Scout.” Mayer has Stanford U degrees in symbolic systems and computer science and patents in Artificial Intelligence. She was the first female engineer at Google, its #20 hire and took charge of search products and the user experience.
Here are her “9 Notions of Innovation:
1-Ideas comes from everywhere. Google expects everyone to innovate, even the finance team
2- Share everything you can. Every idea, every project, every deadline—it’s all accessible to everyone on the internet
3- You’re brilliant, we’re hiring. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin approve hires. They favor intelligence over experience.
4- A license to pursue dreams. Employees get a “free” day a week. Half of new launches come from this “20% time.”
5- Innovation, not instant perfection. Google launches early and often in small beta tests, before releasing new features widely.
6- Don’t politic, use data. Mayer discourages the use of “I like” in meetings, pushing staffers to use metrics.
7- Creativity loves restraint. Give people a vision, rules about how to get there, and deadlines.
8- Worry about usage and users, not money. Provide something simple to use and easy to love. The money will follow.
9- Don’t kill projects—morph them. There’s always a kernel of something good that can be salvaged.”
The controversy surrounding Mayer’s decision to end remote working and have everyone be physically present in the office is reflected in these notions of how you generate innovation. It is a very Silicon Valley, techie model of brilliant engineers coming up with new techie functions that are then tossed out into the world to see if there is an audience for them. It often works. It more often fails.
There is a much better way—understand what is culturally meaningful to people and THEN generate the innovation that satisfies their aspirations. Or do both simultaneously and have engineers and designers work together to design new products and services.
Either way, what Google and Yahoo need right now is to get the cultural meaning part right. They need to move beyond the engineer-centric reliance on numbers and data to tell them about the world and get into the world itself to understand it. They might find that the employees staying home and raising their children have important ideas for the products and services that are meaningful to millions of people.
I talk about Knowledge Mining and Framing in Creative Intelligence. It just may be that Mayer and her old bosses at Google need to rely less on the “best” intelligence of their engineers and more on the creative intelligence of people who embody the lives of their customers. Then they could reframe who and how they employ and what they actually offer up in the marketplace.