Google Exec: Foster 10x Thinking or be Doomed to Incrementalism

By Scott Kirsner |  September 11, 2015

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said recently that “most companies ultimately fail because they do one thing very well but they don’t think of the next thing, they don’t broaden their mission — they become incrementalists. Google is very committed to not doing that. We understand that technological change is essentially revolutionary, not evolutionary.”

Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page has said something similar: “Most companies decay slowly over time because they tend to do approximately what they did before, with a few minor changes. Incremental improvement is guaranteed to be obsolete over time.”

Three keys to innovation, according to Rowe:

  1. Focusing on the user
  2. Giving employees sufficient freedom (time, resources, flexibility)
  3. 10x thinking (how to make something ten times better than what exists today).

Responding to an idea by saying “No, but” is common in many corporate environments, but it’s not nearly as good as saying “Yes, and…” Instead of explaining why an idea can’t work, try to build on ideas and make them better.

Google tries to learn as much as possible from failures as they happen. “Fail forward fast” is a favorite saying. “Learn from what worked and what doesn’t,” Rowe said.

The company gives out a “Courageous Penguin” award to employees who are pushing the envelope. Who is willing to be the first penguin to jump off the ice floe and into the water?

“10X goals,” like when President John F. Kennedy said that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, “become this motivational force multiplier. You create passion and momentum around that,” Rowe said.

“We believe it is sometimes easier to achieve 10X results than 10 percent [better] results.” As examples of 10X projects at Google, Rowe mentioned self-driving cars; bringing Internet access to the whole world with a network of high-altitude balloons (see video below); and developing a contact lens that can detect blood sugar levels in a person with diabetes.

CEO Larry Page has said that “there is no substitute for personally watching and listening to real people,” but as companies get larger, they tend to focus more focus on internal operations, and spend less time with customers.