Innovation at Google

So this weekend for me was, in part, devoted to exploring innovation at Google. I found several educational gems that I will reference in this post.

Innovation at Google – Alfred Spector

A very informative lecture given on Innovation at Google give by Alfred Spector, Vice President of Research and Special Initiatives at Google, in January 2009 at Berkeley’s Engineering School.

Spector talks about both the cultural aspects that promote innovation at Google, as well as some of the available infrastructure and approaches that enable Google to innovate as quickly and consistently as they do.

Innovation at Google – Jeff Dean and Amit Singhal

Here’s a video more focused on technical innovation at Google in which Alfred Spector interviews Google Fellows Jeff Dean and Amit Singhal – where they discuss the challenges Search Quality and Large-Scale Search Infrastructure considerations.

Innovation at Google – Hal Varian

Finally, focusing more on business innovation, a couple of very interesting talks from Google Chief Economist Hal Varian. The first is a podcast from McKinsey Quarterly in which Varian new models for innovation that the Web economy provides (more on this below).

The video of Varian’s second talk is provided below, this talk delivered in Brussels in June 2009:

This is a truly fascinating talk which echos Varian’s comments in the podcast above. Oh, BTW, here’s a link to the slide presentation of Varian’s talk.

The idea I find most compelling in Varian’s two talks is what Varian calls “combinatorial innovation”, the idea that a set of technologies can be combined and recombined to create new innovations. Varian provides examples of combinatorial innovation from previous innovation waves in history including:

  • 1800: Interchangable mechanical parts (for example, in gunmaking
  • 1900: Gasoline engine
  • 1960: Integrated circuits
  • 1995-now: Internet

Of course, Google is one of the key suppliers of the digital interchangeable parts on the web, in the form of its APIs, development platforms, and hosted operating environments.

I should also mention that one of Varion’s key roles at Google is broad oversight for Google’s Ad Auction algorithms. Please see the video below for an overview of how Google prices its search ads:

In Summary

Food for thought for anyone interested in the culture and conditions for supporting business innovation in today’s economy.


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