“We’re off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”
When I visited the Google Headquarters Visitor’s Center in Mountain View, I was a little disappointed. I expected to find the Emerald City and all the magical elements of Googleness: free food, primary colors, structured chaos, and technology defying the laws of nature.
Instead, I found that their magic was not in the form of physical manifestations, but in a mind shift from the practical to the theoretical; a focus on BIGTHINK so they can CHANGE THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT.
The visit was part of the Berlin School of Creative Leadership MBA program. We were dropped off in front of a two-story office complex with the ’90s architecture usually found at real estate offices or dental practices. I assumed this was the staging area where we were being prepared to experience extreme Googleness…white jumpsuits and Google glasses. Near the parking lot on a grassy area was a Street-View Google car randomly parked as if by a frat boy after a kegger. A small group stood around taking photos. A tour of the Visitor Center provided more tangible evidence of Google priorities. The center is incredibly underwhelming, even in its temporary beta state. On display, I found cellophane-covered photos tacked to a wall look like a middle school science fair. Hidden away in a display case was a small Lucite plaque celebrating the “1998 Web Browser of the Year – Google”.Obviously, the center is not at the top of their backlog when compared to the other tasks at hand…driverless car, mapping the world, digitizing all the books in existence, redefining education by making the world’s knowledge available to everyone.
Our Google Guides embodied this prioritization of future potential versus the present and past. Google Guides are employees who volunteer to be ambassadors to visitors. The half dozen that I met had common characteristics; they were brilliant and offered a sincere, pleasant smile. And while they generously accommodated our naiveté in every way, I sensed they were not completely engaged in the present tense. As if running on parallel circuits, their brain was also working in the background on a project that would CHANGE THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT.
“So, what project are you currently working on?”
“I’m in the data analytics division working on algorithms for social pairings relating to search behavior. I can’t go into too much detail. (Polite smile). Would you like to see the Google Maps exhibit?”
It becomes clear the Visitor Center does not represent the future potential of reality, which is the focus of Google. Google is thinking about future visitors more than the current Visitor Center.
Our visit included presentations of how rethinking thinking and rethinking doing are central to the Google BigThink culture. Enter Jeben Berg discussing Agile Creativity and Alberto Savoia promoting Pretotyping.
The presentation by Jeben elaborated on Google’s 10x philosophy. Instead of aiming for the average 10% improvement, set a goal for a 10x multiplier. Only then will you break free of preconceptions and create significant impacts, such as driverless cars that eliminate wasteful parking. As documented by Steven Levy in Wired Magazine, “The way Page sees it, a ten percent improvement means that you’re doing the same thing as everybody else. You probably won’t fail spectacularly, but you are guaranteed not to succeed wildly. That’s why Page expects his employees to create products and services that are ten times better than the competition. That means he isn’t satisfied with discovering a couple of hidden efficiencies or tweaking code to achieve modest gains. Thousand-per-cent improvement requires rethinking problems, exploring what’s technically possible and having fun in the process.” Reframe – Assess – Observe – Disassemble. Replicate a specific future as soon as possible to see if it can be an acceptable reality. By rethinking how we think, we reframe the challenges and actions that lay ahead. Now it’s just a matter of making it real.
That’s when Alberto steps in. His presentation centered around the practice of “Pretotyping” instead of prototyping. Pretotyping is replicating the product experience with the least amount of effort to gauge it’s market viability before you attempt to even create the product. According to Alberto, “Pretotyping makes sure you are building the RIGHT IT before you build IT RIGHT.
The overarching theme for my day at Google was .“go big or go home” and “get ‘er done.” In essence, significant improvements require setting bigger, bolder goals to reframe our strategies and drive meaningful actions.
I experienced a similar approach of BigThink while working at McGraw-Hill Education. The new management reframed the textbook publishing company as a “Learning Science” organization focussing on the future of thinking and learning.
Until now, education has not been able to keep pace with the way students receive and manage information. Computers can, and will, create learning environments that operate with the same cognitive capabilities of the human brain. In fact, they’ll exceed those capabilities. Digital platforms can instruct, assess, adapt, and encourage. Students can engage with technology that adjusts to individual learning styles and unique circumstances. Digital tools help make the most of limited study time by providing mobile access to study resources so learning can happen whenever and wherever. Students and educators have analytics that brings them closer together to make the most of every interaction. And as a result, exchanges can be validated and proven effective. Only a “Learning Science” company can add value to this new environment.
In essence, McGraw-Hill was borrowing from the Google playbook and reframing the issue by setting bigger, bolder goals that define strategies and drive actions.
One final example of Google BigThink relates back to the Google Visitor Center experience. Soon after my visit, I stumbled upon an article about their vision for the reinvention of Googleplex. True to their core values, it was not about an upgraded visitor center, but a complete reinvention of building structures, work environments, and corporate ecosystems. Watch the video. It’s 10x thinking at it’s best.
If you consider that only 17 years ago they won “Web Browser of the Year”, you can’t deny this type of thinking has led to 10x results.