Innovation can be bred: Google creativity head

  • ‘Yes, and’ instead of a ‘Yes, but’ attitude to spur creativity
  • Goal is to move towards 10x thinking, make impactful changes
Innovation can be bred: Google creativity head

INNOVATION and creativity may not come naturally to everyone but that doesn't mean it cannot be fostered, encouraged and developed, according to the head of innovation and creativity programmes at Google Inc.
According to Dr Frederik Pferdt (pic above), if it were just left to innovative and creative people to think up new ideas, companies such as Google, Tesla Motors Inc, Uber Technologies Inc, and Airbnb Inc would not have innovated and challenged existing paradigms.
Speaking during a media tour of Google’s campus in Mountain View, California on the sidelines of Google’s Next Cloud Platform Global User Conference 2016 (GCP 2016), Pferdt says that “extreme ideas” such as Google’s own desire to ‘download the Internet’ gave rise to the US tech giant’s mission to organise the world’s information.
Airbnb, Tesla, and Uber have disrupted and challenged the status quo in the hospitality, automotive and transportation sectors respectively – they dared to dream beyond the conventional, and their efforts have led to real change in the world, he argues.
According to Pferdt, the three companies above began by asking “What if ...?”
Tesla asked, “What if we could build a car that runs only on batteries?” Airbnb asked “What if we could give everybody a home on the planet?” Uber asked, “What if we can build a transportation company without owning any taxis?”
Meanwhile, Google’s founders asked, “What if we can download the Internet and make all the information accessible to everyone?”
Pferdt currently leads a team which leverages what Google calls ‘10x’ thinking to build an innovation culture. His mandate in Google as its de facto chief innovation officer is to train people on how to build a better future through technology.
Originally from Germany, he is the cofounder of ‘The Garage’ at Google and runs its Creative Skills for Innovation Lab. He also lectures at Stanford University.
Apart from asking ‘what if’ questions to spur creativity, it is also important to have a positive mindset instead of a negative one, says Pferdt.
Arguing that there are too many people today who have negative mindsets, he says that these are the kinds of people who often regard new ideas with a ‘yes, but’ instead of a ‘yes, and’ mentality.
People with a ‘yes, but’ approach effectively have a mindset resistant to new ideas, and this discourages creativity; while the ‘yes, and’ attitude is the basis of ‘10x’ thinking that is practised at Google.
In a nutshell, ‘10x’ thinking encourages staff to try and improve any idea by a factor of 10 times instead of just by 10% or 20%.
READ ALSO: 10x for education in the developing world by Dr Vinton Cerf

Innovation can be bred: Google creativity head
“Instead of a ‘yes, but’ attitude, try having a ‘yes, and’ attitude,” suggests Pferdt. “The more you do this, the more you create an optimistic culture that lets ideas grow instead of destroying them.
“An optimistic culture is very helpful to build the ground for letting ideas grow. Instead of trying to find arguments as to why something would not work, we need to accept ideas and try to make them bigger and better.
“As soon as we do that, we will be able to build 10x thinking because the ideas can grow towards something ambitious, bigger than a 10% incremental improvement. This can lead to radical improvements and this is part of our Google innovation thinking,” he adds.
However, Pferdt warns that just having a ‘yes, and’ mindset is no guarantee that any idea can make a positive change. The 10x philosophy is not useful unless the idea focuses on the user.
“There is a need to empathise with what the users’ needs are, and to look at the problem from their point of view,” he says.
“In short, we must put ourselves in their shoes, and only then can better solutions be created,” he adds.
Asked how Google measures this kind of innovation thinking, Pferdt concedes that it would be impossible to see if everyone is practicing positive and 10x thinking, but argues that it is not necessary to do so.
“I’m more interested in the innovator rather the innovation,” he says.
“If you can shape the way people think, develop their mindset and capabilities to innovate, it would be more beneficial because it would be better off in the long term compared with the tracking of individual ideas.
“And that’s my purpose and mission here at Google: To help develop people’s capacities and really develop their mindsets,” he adds.
Edwin Yapp reports from Google’s campus in Mountain View, California, at the invitation of the company. All editorials are independent.
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