Process Fosters Innovation at Google

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Whether you’re an operational executive, or a creative director, one of your goals is to push out  forward-thinking, innovative work. But is process the antithesis of creativity? Is discipline a dirty word? Not at all.

For a while, Google as been synonymous with innovation. The company famously lets its engineers spend one day a week on projects that aren’t part of their jobs. Those “wasted” work days that so many execs would squawk at brought us GMail, Google Trends, and now Google Squared.

But Google has recently taken a further step towards fostering innovation, by establishing some basic managerial processes to ensure employee’s creativity finds its way to high-level management. After all, more than 95 percent of Google’s revenues trace back to Web-based search advertising. It’s been great at launching services like GMail, but Google has yet to have the company really rally behind these services as legitimate products (GMail is still in beta).

The Harvard Biz Review writes:

Google is creating “innovation reviews” where department heads share promising ideas with Google’s top leadership, helping executives focus attention and resources on promising ideas early. As CEO Eric Schmidt said, “We were concerned that some of the biggest ideas were getting squashed.”

It doesn’t seem like Google is walking away from its ideals. Rather, it’s trying to couple its world-class approach to the “front end” of the innovation process with the world-class discipline exhibited by companies like Procter & Gamble. It might yet struggle to bring these two approaches together. But success could allow the company to create an innovation capability that actually lives up to the hype.

The take-away here is that processes which push innovation from the bottom up are  good. Remember that saying: “sh*t flows downstream?” All companies need help defying gravity.