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Google’s Secrets Of Innovation: Empowering Its Employees

March was a good month for Google. Its market capitalization breached a record high $260 billion. Since its IPO in 2004, its shares have soared over 900%. The company’s success stems from its continuous innovation and it extraordinary management practices. Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of Google’s People Operations, talked to me on Thursday on the sidelines of The Economist’s Innovation Forum at UC Berkeley about Google’s innovation secrets.

Google has been keeping the pipeline of innovation going by tapping its employees and letting ideas percolate up, Bock said.

The company has a relatively small group of employees — more than 30,000 workers (excluding 20,000 it gained when acquiring Motorola Mobility). Google is smaller thanExxon Mobil (76,900 employees) and Apple (72,800). It is trying to create an arena where people can be brought together in surprising ways to innovate.

“We try to have as many channels for expression as we can, recognizing that different people, and different ideas, will percolate up in different ways,” Bock said.

The channels include:

Google Cafés, which are designed to encourage interactions between employees within and across teams, and to spark conversation about work as well as play.

Direct emails to any of the company’s leaders.

Google Moderator, an innovation management tool designed by Google’s engineers. The simple idea behind it is that when people have tech talks or company-wide meetings, it lets anyone ask a question and then people can vote up the questions that they’d like answered. Through Moderator, people can discover existing ideas, questions or suggestions, vote for ideas, questions or suggestions and see the aggregate votes to date, create a new series asking for ideas organized by topic, event or meeting. Google Moderator itself is one of Google’s infamous “20 percent” projects. By allowing its engineers to spend 20% of their work week on projects that interest them, Google is able to tap into the many talents of its employees.



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