Marissa Mayer's 9 Principles of Innovation

Google's VP of search products and user experience shares the rules that gives the search company its innovative edge.

  • 1. INNOVATION, NOT INSTANT PERFECTION.

"There are two different types of programmers. Some like to code for months or even years, and hope they will have built the perfect product. That's castle building. Companies work this way, too. Apple is great at it. If you get it right and you've built just the perfect thing, you get this worldwide 'Wow!' The problem is, if you get it wrong, you get a thud, a thud in which you've spent, like, five years and 100 people on something the market doesn't want. Others prefer to have something working at the end of the day, something to refine and improve the next day. That's what we do: our 'launch early and often' strategy. The hardest part about indoctrinating people into our culture is when engineers show me a prototype and I'm like, 'Great, let's go!' They'll say, 'Oh, no, it's not ready. It's not up to Google standards. This doesn't look like a Google product yet.' They want to castle-build and do all these other features and make it all perfect.

I tell them, 'The Googly thing is to launch it early on Google Labs and then iterate, learning what the market wants--and making it great.' The beauty of experimenting in this way is that you never get too far from what the market wants. The market pulls you back."

  • 2. IDEAS COME FROM EVERYWHERE

"We have this great internal list where people post new ideas and everyone can go on and see them. It's like a voting pool where you can say how good or bad you think an idea is. Those comments lead to new ideas."

  • 3. A LICENSE TO PURSUE YOUR DREAMS

"Since around 2000, we let engineers spend 20% of their time working on whatever they want, and we trust that they'll build interesting things. After September 11, one of our researchers, Krishna Bharat, would go to 10 or 15 news sites each day looking for information about the case. And he thought, Why don't I write a program to do this? So Krishna, who's an expert in artificial intelligence, used a Web crawler to cluster articles. He later emailed it around the company. My office mate and I got it, and we were like, 'This isn't just a cool little tool for Krishna. We could add more sources and build this into a great product.' That's how Google News came about. Krishna did not intend to build a product, but he accidentally gave us the idea for one. We let engineers spend 20% of their time working on whatever they want, and we trust that they'll build interesting things."

  • 4. MORPH PROJECTS DON'T KILL THEM

"Eric [Schmidt, CEO] made this observation to me once, which I think is accurate: Any project that is good enough to make it to Labs probably has a kernel of something interesting in there somewhere, even if the market doesn't respond to it. It's our job to take the product and morph it into something that the market needs."

  • 5. SHARE AS MUCH INFORMATION AS YOU CAN

"People are blown away by the information you can get on MOMA, our intranet. Because there is so much information shared across the company, employees have insight into what's happening with the business and what's important. We also have people do things like Snippets. Every Monday, all the employees write an email that has five to seven bullet points on what you did the previous week. Being a search company, we take all the emails and make a giant Web page and index them. If you're wondering, 'Who's working on maps?' you can find out. It allows us to share what we know across the whole company, and it reduces duplication."

  • 6. USERS, USERS, USERS

"I used to call this 'Users, Not Money.' We believe that if we focus on the users, the money will come. In a truly virtual business, if you're successful, you'll be working at something that's so necessary people will pay for it in subscription form. Or you'll have so many users that advertisers will pay to sponsor the site."

  • 7. DATA IS APOLITICAL.

"When I meet people who run design at other organizations, they're always like, 'Design is one of the most political areas of the company. This designer likes green and that one likes purple, and whose design gets picked? The one who buddies up to the boss.'

Some companies think of design as an art. We think of design as a science. It doesn't matter who is the favorite or how much you like this aesthetic versus that aesthetic. It all comes down to data. Run a 1% test [on 1% of the audience] and whichever design does best against the user-happiness metrics over a two-week period is the one we launch. We have a very academic environment where we're looking at data all the time.

We probably have somewhere between 50 and 100 experiments running on live traffic, everything from the default number of results to underlined links to how big an arrow should be. We're trying all those different things."

  • 8. CREATIVITY LOVES CONSTRAINTS

"This is one of my favorites. People think of creativity as this sort of unbridled thing, but engineers thrive on constraints. They love to think their way out of that little box: 'We know you said it was impossible, but we're going to do this, this, and that to get us there.'"

  • 9. YOU'RE BRILLIANT? WE'RE HIRING

"When I was a grad student at Stanford, I saw that phrase on a flyer for another company in the basement of the computer-science building. It made me stop dead in my tracks and laugh out loud. A couple of months later, I'm working at Google, and the engineers were asked to write job ads for engineers. We had a contest. I put, 'You're brilliant? We're hiring. Come work at Google,' and got eight times the click rate that anyone else got.

Google now has a thousand times as many people as when I started, which is just staggering to me. What's remarkable, though, is what hasn't changed--the types of people who work here and the types of things that they like to work on. It's almost identical to the first 20 or so of us at Google. There is this amazing element to the culture of wanting to work on big problems that matter, wanting to do great things for the world, believing that we can build a successful business without compromising our standards and values.

If I'm an entrepreneur and I want to start a Web site, I need a billing system. Oh, there's Google Checkout. I need a mapping function. Oh, there's Google Maps. Okay, I need to monetize. There's Google AdSense, right? I need a user name and password-authentication system. There's Google Accounts. This is just way easier than going out and trying to create all of that from scratch. That's how we're going to stay innovative. We're going to continue to attract entrepreneurs who say, 'I found an idea, and I can go to Google and have a demo in a month and be launched in six.'"

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27 Comments

  • robert newman

    nice words and wisdom....all this tons of innovation specialist...let us see..
    Marissa looks are perfect...the rest is mostly B-side---smile & best wishes

  • Eric Malamisura

    So your idea of innovation is to send out tons of unfinished apps and features until one of them catches? That sounds an awful lot like what spammers do, send out tons of emails with false pretenses until one catches and then scream eureka!  It may be effective but it makes your company look kind of cheap, Google was able to get away with this because of their massive successes so people were willing to deal with these 'other' things that didn't do so well.  I am not sure if this would work so great for other companies, where customers aren't so forgiving...

  • Mike Donatello

    Great points, but I'd hope that somewhere along the line marketing research would play a role. You can cut out a lot of the see-what-sticks testing by doing some simple listening beforehand. Research shouldn't occur only once the widget is built.

  • David Bradley

    One of my principles of innovation is to ask the right questions, and be allowed to ask them without fear of someone thinking you are trying to be negative or an obstacle to progression. I think it is always important to ask questions when someone presents an idea. I don't do it to try and stop you from being successful. I'm asking because I want you to be able to strip down the concept, ensure that there aren't any additional things you haven't thought about, and be able to understand the WHY behind your idea. Without the WHY you aren't emotionally tied to the success of the idea.

  • Motor

    Marissa,

    This is the first article I've read about you that shows some worrisome direction.  The most successful and world changing companies are the ones that balance art AND science.  Giving developers a tiny box to work in to force them for be creative to "make it work", and designing based on data metrics gives the impress that you don't entirely understand people, and reinforces why Googles products serve the masses, but often lack any kind of enchantment and beauty in their design.  

    Maybe its time you went to Burning Man.

  • Marco

    Even her principles can't save Yahoo. Their ***up after ****up over the last decade or so has literally, no brakes. I think she won't do anything.

  • Kathy

    As a speaker and author on innovation, I've spoken to several hundred people over the past few years. Some were members of leadership teams for one company, others were audience members for seminars or private speaking events. I've included the 9 points above from Marissa Mayer on innovation at Google as part of my material. I can absolutely say that it resonated very positively with my audiences. They loved it! Even better, go watch her delivery of the information at Stanford on YouTube - well worth the time to hear the complete message.

    I believe people like the points so much because we'd all like to work in a similar environment. Openness, exchange of ideas, non-political....how often do you find these qualities? I think Marissa had an incredibly great impact at Google. She will certainly have her work cut out for her at Yahoo, but I'm sure she will use her stellar experience with innovation as she looks to the future. I wish her, Yahoo and, of course, Google, continuing success! We need to keep fostering innovation!!

  • RAJIV KUMAR

    Hi Ms. Mayer, 
    Regarding your point number 6 I have an idea about a website which fulfill all the requirements what you have mentioned in point number 6. Its a very simple combination of two products but presents the world in a totally different way. I believe that there is nothing new in the  activities which is going on in the  world like social interaction, professional interaction. We merely follow the culture which is controlled by some people in the form of business. But we can present ALL  the activities in a  totally different way and start a new culture of meeting someone, doing business, and watching the world's activities in the way as it is going on in reality. Main thing is we watch and share everything but in different sites. My concept is to present all the world's activities at one place and in real time in a different way. I want to share this concept but do not know how to contact you. My e-mail id is raj786k@gmail.com. If possible, please guide me. ---RAJIV KUMAR.  

  • Pensando Marketing

    Is it ethical to get a job in your worst competitor and take all commercial secrets with you ? This is like Coke's CEO going to work for Pepsi. If this woman were of any value, Google would be suing right now, but it seems they are lighting the fireworks instead. 

  • Dan Sutton

    #3 is the most important thing. Programmers are not engaged by the task of programming if they're not allowed to experiment on their own. Programming is, intrinsically, an art form before anything else: a programmer must be allowed to have a degree of self-expression as well as performing the day-to-day tasks required at whatever company they're working for, otherwise they'll quickly become disillusioned. The story here about Krishna who inadvertently built Google News illustrates this point perfectly. There have been many times when I've written things because I felt like it, not really knowing why I was writing them, and then, a week later, found something I couldn't have solved had I not written that seemingly-useless piece of code. I think the subconscious, if allowed to run free, can see some problems coming long before any formalized structure of meetings, planning and so forth can have a hope of doing so.

  • Bob Rodriguez

    For many years, one of the most interesting parts of working at Bell Labs (before all of the spin outs) was seeing the number of engineers, scientists, etc playing chess in the open areas at all hours of the day.  Stretch the mind in different ways and good things happen.  

  • Jasmine Adamson

    After reading this, I find myself wondering how I can get my hair to look like hers. Nothing else, just that.

  • David Neckels

    I interviewed and I wouldn't consider any of the people I talked to anywhere near brilliant.
    I've worked with brilliant people, I know what their vibe is....

  • Jake

    What's with the disturbing 'Related content' mess on the left? Don't mess up the fantastic UI you guys have.

  • Marian Vasile

    Not surprising at all, hatred stands in the way of seeing things as they are. Truth: Marissa did great, Google is great. Can y'all feel your blood boiling with rage yet? So sad...

  • Michael DeMutis

    Gross...  so what is she gonna do for Yahoo? Make it like google?  Will I be able to sign into Yahoo using my google account now?  Puke...

  • Paul T. Lambert

    In other words, hire hordes of code monkeys to keep churning out loads of half-baked, barely functioning products, hoping that some will catch on.  If one manages to do so, you can then debug and make it half-presentable.  At the same time, never lose sight of your main cash cow, namely ad sales, and be sure that your most prized engineers devote all their time to this.