What Alphabet Can Teach Us About Innovation

A few disclaimers before I begin:

  1. This blog post is not about the alphabet (abc etc.), but rather Alphabet, Google’s new parent company.

  2. This blog post will not focus on the financial reasons for why Larry and Sergey made the decision. If that is what you are looking for, you can go here, here or here

Now that I got those out of the way, I can share a few of my thoughts. Simply put, companies that don’t innovate will die. That may seem a little harsh, but it’s the truth.  The world we live in requires businesses to be creative and to constantly improve their products and services.

If your company isn’t a 100% innovative yet, it’s ok. Although it takes a lot of work to develop such a culture, it isn’t impossible. As I was reading Larry’s letter on the Alphabet landing page, I came across three key takeaways when it comes to creating a culture of innovation.

1. Innovation is an attitude/mindset 

I hate to be the breaker of bad news, but innovation doesn’t just happen in a single moment. Becoming innovative takes time and is definitely a process.

As Sergey and I wrote in the original founders letter 11 years ago, ‘Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.’

— Larry Page

Sergey and Larry understood from the very early days of Google that they didn’t want to be another typical run-of-the-mill technology company, they wanted to be different, unique and “do cool things that matter.” To the startups out there, make sure that innovation and creativity are at the foundation of your business. How are you going to promote and value new ideas from your employees? If you are already a Fortune 500, it’s not too late to get those creative juices flowing. For example, Adobe has had great success with its Kickbox program that it launched several years ago. 

2. Innovation is about taking risks

As part of that, we also said that you could expect us to make ‘smaller bets in areas that might seem very speculative or even strange when compared to our current businesses.’ We’ve long believed that over time companies tend to get comfortable doing the same thing, just making incremental changes. But in the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant.

— Larry Page

I love how Page mentions being comfortable with being uncomfortable. I have seen many companies get stuck in a routine. They have their flagship product or products and they often have the mentality, “If this works, why change?” Although there is a bit of truth behind the statement, I would encourage companies to instead think, “What can we do to make this better? How can we deliver an even better experience for our customers?” I feel founder of the Sundance Film Festival, Robert Redford, sums up this point nicely.

Not taking a risk is a risk. Change is needed.

— Robert Redford

3. Innovation doesn’t mean you can cut corners

Just because your company may be trying to come up with the biggest, brightest, new idea that the world has ever seen doesn’t mean that you can ignore being ethical. Despite the fast pace of innovation, companies still need to be transparent.

Our company is operating well today, but we think we can make it cleaner and more accountable.

— Larry Page

Page and Sergey are excited about “improving the transparency and oversight of what [they] are doing.” Long gone are the days where companies only need to worry about pleasing shareholders. Now, companies are accountable to their employees, customers, community and just about everyone. 

Google is just one fish in an entire ocean of innovative companies. Whether you are startup or a company that has been around the block for decades, remember that innovation is a mindset, about taking risks and must be done ethically and morally. 

How does your company stay innovative?

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Ethan Parry is 

... a Service Designer + UX Researcher at Hanzo. Parry frequently leads workshops around the world on topics such as Google Design Sprints, UX research, and service design. Parry also teaches UX and service design in several universities and bootcamps in Barcelona.