Ian Morgan: Building the right culture and organisation for innovation

Orde Saunders' avatarUpdated: Published: by Orde Saunders

Ian Morgan of Google was talking about how they build their culture to help them innovate, these are my notes from his talk.

The marketplace is changing fast, how do you organise yourself culturally and structurally? Innovation is key to maintain competitive advantage. Innovation comes from everywhere - it has to be a core value of the organisation, everyone has a role to play.


Google is a relatively new company with digital at its core, it has Grown from two blokes in a garage to 34k in 14 years and is truly global.

Innovation at Google

Be audacious. Their mission statement is to organise all of the world's information.

  • 270 million queries per day in the UK
  • 400 million people on Google+
  • 48 hours of content uploaded every minute
  • 550k Android activations per day

People and culture

Smart People

Make a point of recruiting the very best. Receive over 1 million CVs a year. Hire between 0.01 and 0.04 of these. More than half of engineers have Phds. Look for people that are passionate about digital and are entrepreneurial thinking. Process has been streamlined, used to be up to 29 interviews - now four to nine. Interviewed by someone you would be working for, a peer, some working for you, someone from a completely different part of Google - all have a veto. All rubber stamped by Sergi and Larry. Attrition rate is low single figures. Can't recruit fast enough to capitalise on opportunities that appear across their global reach.


Create the right environment for your smart people. Office space is designed round collaboration, big communal areas, canteen is the centre of the building. Everyone gets a say in the design of the office. Virtual meeting facilities, free massage, gyms, no dress code, free healthy food. Program of speakers who come in to give talks on various subjects.

"We provide these services so you can focus on innovation, and hit the ground running every day of the week, in any Google office."


"At Google, we give the impression of not managing the company because we don't really." Eric Schmidt

Very high level of autonomy for employees, 60 direct reports for a manager is not uncommon. 20% time to work on anything they link, similar to the shotgun approach used by pharmaceutical companies. The chaos this produces is an acceptable side effect for the amount of innovation it produces. Even if products aren't successful, creativity is still rewarded. There are still some rules and reviews to keep things in check.

Peer bonuses of £100 can be given out by anyone to anyone they feel deserves them. However, recognition counts for more than any financial reward.

Sharing knowledge and innovation

  • Transparency on business strategy and financials
  • Who is doing what - everyone's objectives are public
  • Internal sites
  • TGIF & Q&A - open forum with senior managers every Friday
  • Open feedback
  • Dogfood program - new products or services are trialled internally
  • Public Promo
  • Internal Training & Evangelisation

Consumer focus

Difference between those who say they are and those who actually are. Everything starts with the user, even if there's no obvious financial gain, if it benefits users it can happen. Don't always listen to your customers as they might not know what they want if it doesn't exist yet. Launch early and iterate based on feedback. Better is better than best. Feed the winners and starve the losers.

Ideas and & Technology

Consumers are evangelists, if people like it then it goes viral and gets the best publicity possible.

Ideas are nothing without the ability to implement them. Intranet is a free noticeboard for ideas - encourages collaboration between departments, those with the most votes are good candidates.

  • $155k research budget for each engineer
  • 20k changes tested on Search in 2010, 500 improvements launched
  • $7m incentives for young engineers

Google acquisitions increase innovation, benefiting Google, users and the web:

  • Android
  • YouTube
  • Double Click
  • Motorola Mobility

Part of the due diligence is to examine the culture of the target and ensure that there will be a good fit for the Google culture.

Google don't fear the big players, they fear the small innovators as that's where they came from. There will always be competition, innovation is a journey not a destination. Innovation is no longer a competitive advantage, it's key to business survival.

Impossible? Let's do it! Culture of innovation, even if something fails then, providing it is ambitious enough, there will things from it that can be used elsewhere - don't kill ideas, repurpose them. "We're changing the world here."

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