Google under the hood

Last week I, along with some other members of the public sector innovation network, got to hear from Alan Noble (Engineering Director, Google Australia) and a number of Google engineers talking about their approach to innovation.

Google is well known for its ability to innovate (for instance, see Dr Kastelle’s innovation matrix which describes firms where innovation is deeply embedded in the culture as ‘Google-like Innovators’) so it was interesting to hear from them on how they have integrated innovation into their work.

Some of the points made were:

  • Innovation is a process and not something that can be commanded

  • Innovation is non-linear and unpredictable

  • The role of organisations is to build the environment for innovation

  • At Google they try to provide the tools and platforms to allow people the space to play and to innovate

  • The role of managers is to facilitate their teams innovating

  • Small teams are agile teams

  • Trust is very important

  • You have to try things and experiment (a lot)

  • Constraint can encourage innovation as scarcity can makes things clear

  • Failure is a necessary part of the innovation process


One of the other things mentioned was Google’s guiding principles ‘10 things we know to be true’. These principles include: that if you focus on the user, all else will follow; that great just isn’t good enough; and you can be serious without a suit.

On looking at these principles I also came across their 10 design principles. These include ‘Dare to innovate’ – “Google encourages innovative, risk-taking designs whenever they serve the needs of users. Our teams encourage new ideas to come out and play. Instead of just matching the features of existing products, Google wants to change the game.” [1. This quote is not covered by the Creative Commons licence or Commonwealth Copyright. From "Ten principles that contribute to a Googley user experience" accessed at http://www.google.com/corporate/ux.html on 1 December 2010.]

The APS has its Values which articulates our philosophy for the public service. But I was wondering – what could an APS philosophy for innovation look like? What should it look like?