Three Priceless Innovation Lessons You Can Learn from Google

The following is a guest post from Future Buzz community member Joseph Putnam. If you’d like to contribute thinking here, please read the guidelines.

Everyone knows that Google is the leader of the internet pack when it comes to innovation. They consistently develop intuitive, cutting edge products that do exactly what the user wants.

So how do they do it? How are they so good at developing so many products that are a hit with customers? What’s their secret?

Unless you get a job on a Google product development team, you’ll never know the exact formula, but if you’d still like to learn some of Google’s innovation secrets, here are three priceless innovation lessons that can be learned from the folks at Google.

Lesson #1: How can this be improved?

The first question to ask for innovation is this: How can this be improved?

Many people make the mistake of thinking that in order to innovate, they need to invent something entirely new. If it’s not a brand new concept, then it’s not innovation.

That’s simply not true.

Innovation can be an improvement of an existing product and doesn’t require invention. What Google did with Gmail is a great example of this.

E-mail had been around for several years before Google created Gmail. They didn’t invent e-mail or web based e-mail clients, but they did answer the first innovation question: How can e-mail be improved?

Instead of copying the e-mail clients that were popular at the time, which is the follow-the-leader innovation strategy that many companies use, Google considered the current e-mail clients and asked how they could be made better.

The result was a greatly improved e-mail experience where e-mails never needed to be deleted and could be archived and searched at any time, there was no need to save inbound e-mail addresses because they were immediately saved, and a chat function was built directly into the interface.

The list goes on, and the innovation has continued. Now there is a priority inbox so users can star the most important messages they don’t want to forget, and there is a GTalk option that allows for video and voice communication with other Gmailers.

The lesson to be learned here is that Google didn’t invent e-mail, but they did innovate to make it better by asking a simple question: How can this be improved?

Lesson #2: What are the pain points?

Everyone is abuzz about Google+ being the social media platform that will  finally dethrone Facebook.

Whether or not that’s true is yet to be seen, but Google has come up with a social media platform that will provide the strongest competition Facebook has faced to date.

So how did Google come up with such a powerful and effective social media platform?

One way was by asking another simple question: What are the pain points that users are experiencing?

Finding out what frustrations customers have with a current product happens to be one of the easiest ways to innovate.

With Facebook, the frustration was sharing too much information with too many groups of people. There are some conversations people want to have with family members and friends that they don’t want to have with co-workers, but the problem is that Facebook information is available to too many people. So much so, that some college students missed out on job opportunities because potential bosses saw pictures and comments they didn’t like.

This has been one of the biggest pain points with Facebook, and Google is using this to their advantage.

Google+ mitigates this pain by allowing users to group people into circles. Friends are in a friend circle, family members in a family one, co-workers with co-workers, etc. The result is that Google+ users can decide which group receives what information and communicate appropriately with each group.

Pain point eliminated.

Google solved this problem by asking what pain users were experiencing, then they came up with a solution that removed the source of the pain, which resulted in an experience that many think is better than Facebook. They did this by asking one simple question.

Lesson #3: What should come next?

Google’s other recent innovation has been with the Chromebook.

The Chromebook simplifies the computing experience by replacing the operating system with a browser. Instead of running a traditional system like Windows, it operates on the Google Chrome browser.

So how did Google come up with such a radical product? How did they make the leap from using an operating system like Windows to being browser operated?

One way was by asking what should come next.

A lot of companies think of innovation as making the newest, fastest version of the current product. If a company wants to innovate, it needs to make a newer, faster version of whatever the current product is.

Often this is the case, but if companies really want to innovate, they need to consider what the next product should be.

With desktop computers as an example, one way to innovate would be to make a faster version of the standard rectangle shaped desktop that attaches to a monitor by wire. Another way would be stop and consider, “What should come next? What should the next computer look like? How can the home computer experience be improved?”

Instead of relying on the mental-model of the current desktop computer and making the next version, companies could consider what it is that customers really want and how the next product can be improved to give customers the experience that they’re looking for.

This requires forgetting about the current version of the product and envisioning how the experience can be improved. It requires companies to ask this question: What should come next?

It’s difficult to make an innovation leap while considering the current version of a product. Instead, companies have to think about what will come next. Asking that question leads to innovation.

Google did this with the Chrome notebook. Who knows what they’ll come up with next.

And what about you? How will you use these three questions to create innovation in your field?

About the author: Joseph Putnam helps professionals establish a reputable online presence through blogging. Visit Blog Tweaks to learn how you can develop your personal brand and become a thought leader through blogging.