The man behind Google's "moonshot" division

Google has a division, 'Google X', that is focused on developing long-lead projects with transformational business potential. It conducts research on "out there" technologies, seeking new problems that Google can solve (or for which it can become part of the solution), and new business green-fields for the company to enter.  Given Catalyst’s ‘H3/4’ type remit, looking into the future and working counterintuitively towards breakthroughs that can be game changing for our own business, we feel an affinity for Google X and might learn from the Google X  recipe.  You may find the recent New York Times interview with Google X director, Astro Teller, of interest as we did.

Google has come under increased pressure from shareholders and analysts to provide more transparency and ROI data for Google X -- a topic worthy of its own discussion -- and predictably the Times interview touches on this issue.  Teller provides some insight into his philosophy towards work and approach to value that are worth noting.  His description of how he wants to talk about what the division is working on -- a "philosophy of authenticity and vulnerability” — reflects a belief that to progress it's important to discuss what is working well, but also what is failing -- in order to understand real reasons for both.  Catalyst operates with a similar philosophy, even instituting a ‘failure metric’ for the team to create further incentives for risk taking, in the belief that if we always succeed with every new initiative, we are not stretching the boundaries into new frontiers where many of the truly transformational opportunities reside.  

Teller’s answer to the question of what justifies his team's work could also serve as a contribution to a broader discussion of the concept of mutuality in business: “… We need to make sure that the things we are already working on turn out to do the things we believe they can do and creating value both for the world and ultimately for Google."

Image source: Wired

-- Jay Jakub

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