How Google Works: What is innovation?

My friend William and I started a book club – of two. So, I guess book duo would be more precise. Anyhow, our first book we read together was How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg. One question that sparked a conversation at one of our meetings was was with the definition in the book on innovation.

The book states “For something to be innovative, it needs to be new, surprising, and radically useful.”

The questions that came up were:

  • Did we agree with that definition?
  • To what extent do you agree with this statement?
  • Is the innovation defined on a continuum/scale, or is the question of something being innovative a yes/no question?
  • How do you measure “radically useful”?
  • Why must it be “surprising?”
  • When do you determine when something is useful?

After some disagreements and concession this here is what we concluded:

Innovation is not binary, it can lie on a continuum.

We broke “innovation” down into invention (something new), innovation (an invention that is 2X or more better than what exists), disruption (an invention that is 10X+ better than what exists and that displaces, or noticeable begins to displace, something heavily used today.)

Using an example in the book, where does an improvement such as the auto-search functionality lie? Is what you are planning to do iterative? Is it 2X, 3X or 10X better?

I’ve had applied this more detailed perspective to some projects I am working on during the planning of potential roadmaps. In some cases this question hurt the iterative process, it caused us to overthink simple iterations that in aggregate could lead to something greater in the future. After all, sometimes *trying* to innovate kills the creative free thinking environment that breeds innovation. In other cases it helped us stretch our ideas into something more impactful, for example asking “How much better do you think that is than what we have, 2X, 3X ….?”