Larry Page's Ambitious 10X Mindset
By Jack Rosenberger
If you want to be inspired, read Steven Levy’s interview with Google CEO Larry Page in the February issue of Wired. What is so inspiring about the interview is that Page is always thinking in terms of 10X improvements, such as “How can this product or service be 10 times better than it is now?” or “How can this product be 10 times better than the competition’s product?”
In fact, Page during the interview makes clear his disdain for companies that aim for incremental changes, like a 10 percent improvement. Such “incremental improvement is guaranteed to be obsolete over time,” he says. “Especially in technology, where you know there’s going to be non-incremental things.”
With Page’s daily focus being implementing “breakthrough, non-incremental things across our whole business,” this also inspires Google’s employees to constantly think of big ideas and to strive for monumental breakthroughs. Astro Teller, the head of Google X, the company’s secretive skunkworks lab, illustrates the impact of Page’s 10X thinking with an imaginary story in which he wheels a time machine into Page’s office, plugs it in, and demonstrates how it works. Page, however, isn’t impressed with the time machine. Instead, he wants to know why it needs a plug or, better yet, what if it didn’t use power. “It’s not because he’s not excited about time machines or he’s ungrateful that we built it,” Teller says. “It’s just core to who he us. There’s always more to do, and his focus is on where the next 10X will come from.”
Now, imagine how inspirational it would be to work for a CIO who always thinks in terms of 10X impact.
To foster a reverence for breakthroughs, CIOs can borrow several ideas from Google. Besides creating a work environment in which employees know their CIO places a premium on breakthroughs, you can establish the groundwork for an innovative workplace. Google accomplished this in its early days with 20 percent time in which select employees could devote 20 percent of their time, or one day a week, working on special projects. (Gmail was one of the results from 20 percent time.) More recently, Page and cofounder Sergey Brin created Google X, a skunkworks lab whose sole purpose is to aim for moonshot projects and has resulted in revolutionary devices such as autonomous cars and Google Glass, a wearable computer. Another method, which Page mentions in passing during the interview, is to be entrepreneurial and always thinking about new projects. “Periodically,” he says, “every n years, you should work on something new that you think is amazing.”
Always working on exciting, novel or breakthrough projects, of course, offers two competitive advantages. One, it’s easier to attract and hire the best talent when your company has a reputation as a place where employees often work on ambitious and groundbreaking endeavors. Second, when your employees are working on these types of projects, it’s easier to retain top employees because work is a lot of fun.