Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Marissa Mayer on innovation

Google VP Marissa Mayer has an interesting column in BusinessWeek about creativity and innovation at Google.

Some excerpts on development of the Google Toolbar:
In the case of the Toolbar Beta, several of the key features (custom buttons, shared bookmarks) were prototyped in less than a week.

In fact, during the brainstorming phase, we tried out about five times as many key features -- many of which we discarded after a week of prototyping. Since only 1 in every 5 to 10 ideas work out, the strategy of constraining how quickly ideas must be proven allows us try out more ideas faster, increasing our odds of success.

Speed also lets you fail faster ... It's important to discover failure fast and abandon it quickly. A limited investment makes it easier to walk away and move on to something else that has a better chance of success.
Rapid prototyping. Experiment and learn. Fail quickly and move on.

Innovation is exploration of the unknown. No one knows the best path. It is important to try many things, learn what works and what doesn't, quickly reject your failures, and build on your successes. That is the key to innovation.

See also Google CEO Eric Schmidt's thoughts on encouraging innovation in my earlier post, "Making innovation run rampant".

See also Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' thoughts on encouraging innovation in my earlier post, "Jeff Bezos, the explorer".


Anonymous said...

While I agree there is clear value in rapid prototyping, it obscures a vast class of visionary ideas due to the complexity of the implementations required just to see if they work.

If you evaluate an experiment as a failure, you have to have a good idea of why it is failing, not just that it is failing. Was it the coding? was it the data base schema? was it an encoding problem?

The scrappy world of Web 2.0 is going to result in a plateau of short and near term ideas becoming succesful, but isn't going to produce any fundamental changes beyond the genre itself.

APIs to data don't let you do anything fundamental with the data in terms of inference (e.g. an interface to an index won't allow you to do any data mining over large corpora).

In the long run, I'm sure that those holding the content are quite happy for companies to spring up founded on the narrow view that APIs allow while they work on fundamental science behind the next big thing.

Greg Linden said...

Great points, Matthew. I didn't mean to suggest that only things that take a couple weeks are worth doing.

It's true that hill climbing only gets you so far. Sometimes, you need to take a bigger leap.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Matthew. Most if not all of what I see coming out of Google is feature-ware, not actual improvements in our fundamental understanding of how to match expressions of user information need (i.e. queries) with the information folks are seeking.

You might need better widgets to ultimately help you in the quest, but you are not going to solve the problem using widgets alone. You need something longer-term.

Anonymous said...

Ah, and I just noticed Greg's comment moments after posting my own. Excellent analogy, Greg. I think Google is hill-climbing its way to a fairly low local maximum. And the way the whole company is structured, it would take a significant reworking of their DNA to change this.

Scheduleflow said...

I think Marissa is no flash in the pan and knows what she is talking about.

Google only part with 10% of their energy in regard to exploritory development, while spending a signficant 70% on their core business, I suspect they are making significant inrounds in their core search technology, still leading the pack.

I believe the risk of going too far down a path is much higher than the view of quick prototyping to determine whether it is a definite no go.

Love the comments