Don't fear the failure
Google's Michael Jones talks about taking risk on innovation
By Rebecca Merrett, CIO Australia, Auckland | Wednesday, September 26 2012
If there is one company that knows what it means to dare to try something different, it's Google. Michael Jones, Google's chief technology advocate, spoke with CIO Australia about innovation and how important it is for CIOs to create a company culture where failure is not feared, rather is seen as part of the process of innovation.
Jones, who is to speak in Australia at the upcoming Creative Innovation 2012 event, has a 'bold' approach to innovation where he believes not knowing the result of a change is how innovation can happen. It's something CIOs might find themselves being cautious about, but he says it's what can keep businesses ahead of the competition.
"When things are possible to be changed, often the winner in business is the first one to realise the implication of that change. So there's a first move advantage of this. The challenge to businesses, to CIOs around the world is to understand how we can do this better, really do this better, dramatically better. If it was me running a company I would be very focused on doing that," Jones says.
"The biggest thing that you could learn from Google is to be innovative. To be innovative what you need to do is to try things that you aren't sure will work, to try things that could work. If they did work they would transform your business, and if they didn't work you could afford the (something) failure. That's the secret of innovation; to try things before you are certain that they will work."
For innovation to take place, Jones says CIOs and business executives need to create a company culture where workers can feel safe to test their new ideas, where they will have the support from their leaders.
"Here's what you have to do: If you are the boss, you need to let you employees know, 'I expect you to be the first one to think of good ideas. If you are not sure that it's going to work I want you to expect that I am going to appreciate that you were clever to try it and [you] found a lesson that will benefit our company even if that one idea didn't work.'
"If you are the leader and you do that, you'll have a creative innovative organisation. Leaders of companies and executives, if they complain about not having a creative organisation then they are talking about themselves."
Fear of failure is one of the biggest deterrents of innovation, in Jones' view. He says companies that condemn their workers whose tested ideas don't go according to plan are sabotaging their opportunity to become more competitive.
"They have created a punishment system in their company that [doesn't] reward people for trying to be innovative. If you punish them as soon as they fail then all you'll have will be... a workforce that learns never to try new things because you're going to punish them if it doesn't work out. A lot of companies are in that position.
"Personally, from Google's point of view, that makes it easier for us. We have giant companies and competitors who seem like they are asleep at the wheel because their employees are afraid to try things. We have ability to have equally smart employees as they have but we tell them, 'Go ahead and try and we'll see what happens.' Sometimes things don't work as well as we'd hope, sometimes Google cancels products... We are willing to try."
Jones believes that when it comes to innovation there is always something to keep striving for, even for a company like Google.
"You might think that Google has got search figured out, but from our point of view we haven't even [got it] figured out at all.
"Our goal is to help the future happen sooner, help people have the benefit of information that will make their lives better as quickly as possible. In many cases that requires not only what's possible but rethinking what's desirable or rethinking what things mean.
"It's not so much technology to have more technology. It's more using technology to make things easier for people [to do things] they already want to do; to facilitate actions and patterns of normal human behaviour that already exists."