Marissa Mayer on Innovation and Culture – Inerview by David Eckoff

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David Eckoff — formerly from Turner Broadcasting and someone whom I met at the 2007 Podcast and New Media Expo — recently published some excerpts from his 1:1 interview with Marissa Maryer (VP, Goolge) which was filmed in front of a live audience at Turner Studios. His two posts (so far) cover the issues of Innovation and culture within Google, which are obviously two areas that we all know Google excels in.

Both innovation and culture are at the heart of every organization…IMHO, it usually trickles down from the top and really sets the tone for all employees. They are also areas which I am very passionate about and a big part of the reason why I moved to my new job.

So, to start off this week, I thought it would be interesting to share a few excerpts from David’s two excerpts as lessons and ideas that we can all learn from and things to think about through the week…


Images from DavidEckoff.com

DE: How do you evaluate and screen new ideas and products?

MM: There’s a vibe that comes from winning ideas. When I break it down: First, I think of it as a new company within Google, to understand how we should invest. Is there a core piece of technology that would be interesting and repurposeful in any number of ways? Second, is this the kind of product that is easily articulatable and that will grow through word of mouth? Meaning, is it a very simple concept that people can express to each other on the street? Very basic concepts that are easily understood and used, instantly intuitive…The third thing I look for: the overall vibe from the team…

So that’s really what you want: a piece of repurposeful technology; and a very simple and easy to understand idea; and you want a great founding team that’s really fired up. So fired up that they won’t take no for an answer and they won’t fail.

DE: What cultural attributes makes Google special when it comes to innovating and developing new products?

MM: People like to question the status quo and they like to think about doing things in new audacious ways…Try to have big and audacious goals for how to do something and how to approach new problems…We want them to be big opportunities, things that really matter to people that they will use every day. Because when you work on really big important problems that matter and that are fundamentally useful to people’s everyday lives, you’ll find a way to monetize them.

DE: Google has seen tremendous growth in the number of employees. How do you maintain the culture of the company?

MM: I started when there were 18 people and now there are about 18,000 people. I think we were very lucky when we were small, the people we hired were all likeminded they were all interested in working on products that mattered they all wanted to do good things for the world and work on problems and projects that their friends and family would use every day. As a results, we had a very stable culture then…

I think that what one of the most stunning things is how similarly motivated the early Googlers are to today’s Googlers. The conversations that happen every night around the foosball table or in the snack kitchens, you hear the same kind of aspirational language: what could Google do, what would be possible, what’s interesting in technology and how could we combine that with the infrastructure we’re building? What would be a big and audacious goal in this area? Those same conversations happen every night. The people who come now are inspired by the same principles that we had early on.

I really like the fact that what Marissa says about culture ties directly into what drives innovation, as well as the emphasis on “things that will matter to people” rather than on monetization first. I also like the fact that some of these concepts remind me of the three core values that my current company (Vertex) has established as a basic tenet for everything we do.

Overall, I continue to be inspired by the kinds of things that Marissa says — reminders that bigger organizations don’t have to fall into corporate rat traps that hinder and frustrate their employees. I can only hope it will also inspire each of us to think differently about these issues and to start infusing these values within the organizations where we work.

If you’re inspired and want to delve deeper into the Google philosophy and culture, you might enjoy reading my 2006 post (A License to Pursue Dreams: Google’s Innovation Equation) on Marissa Mayer’s talk from the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast.

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