Alphabet—Google’s newish parent company—opened today’s trading day with a market capitalization (value) of just over $550 billion. That’s equivalent to a sizeable nation. The company has reached this valuation through constant innovation.
What began as a better way to search files on the internet has evolved into a massive company that relentlessly pursues new breakthroughs. Google X, now simply “X,” has produced advancements in self-driving cars, machine learning, and internet speed and access. This in addition to coming to dominate advertising dollars with an innovative algorithm and shrewd action-style structure. They revolutionized GPS-guidance maps.
The list goes on and on. Rather than ramble through all of Google’s accomplishments, I’d rather share with you eight maxims that helped shape the culture that produced these kinds of innovations.
- Focus on the User
This first one sheds some light on why “scratch you own itch” is often wise advice. In those ventures, you are your first customer, so it’s instinctual to focus on the user. Too often entrepreneurs start businesses for target markets they are not a part of, don’t research the behavior or desires of this demographic, launch—and get crushed. No interest.
Focusing on the user helps a company avoid this fate. This applies whether you’re selling to businesses or straight to consumers. How the person who buys—with attention, trust, and often times money—feels needs to be top priority.
Physical, digital, or otherwise, obsess over user experience.
- Share Everything
Again, this applies to both tangible and intangible goods. Gary Vaynerchuk built a multi-million dollar wine business—WineLibrary TV—in the early days of YouTube. He parlayed his social media expertise into a sizable Manhattan advertising company, VaynerMedia. He consistently preaches hustle and tripling-down on individual strengths.
GaryVee, as he’s known throughout the interwebs, is a perfect example of this maxim. One of the two regular shows on his YouTube channel (with over 400,000 subscribes) is even called #DailyVee. These are professionally produced videos, generally twenty to forty minutes, which takes viewers through a day in Gary’s life. Some main themes are putting in 16-hour days doing work you love; business meetings with big brands; speaking to, teaching, and thanking fans; and a lot of travel. It’s pretty cool.
This maxim basically says people want to see how the sausage is made.
- Look for Ideas Everywhere
This tactic has been deployed by innovate geniuses throughout human history.
Leonardo Da Vinci brought a never-before-seen realism to his paintings by becoming intensely curious about human anatomy.
The Wright Brothers were first in flight because the big companies also working on the problem were stuck believing planes needed to operate like ships through the air. Orville and Wilbur had owned and manufactured in a bicycle shop prior to taking on flying—they based their aircraft on balancing on a bicycle—and changed the world.
Red Bull, a monster financial success, started as an obscure beverage in Thailand. The founder(s) saw an opportunity and licensed it.
The principle applies to both art and business. Being able to synthesize disparate parts of one’s life is a universally-useful skill to cultivate.
- Think Big but Start Small
Another brilliant maxim commonly agreed upon by high performers. Just like Google started laser-focused on a better way to search the internet, or Facebook started on one college campus, most innovations take time to build momentum and tip.
This is just like Peter Theil’s question concerning a big share of a small market.
Elon Musk proved the concept of a drivable, desirable electric vehicle with a small run of Roadsters prior to going after a bigger slice of the market.
If your product is for everybody, then your product is for nobody.
- Never Fail to Fail
A common expression in Silicon Valley (tech capital of the world) is, “Fail early, fail often, fail forward.” This is similar to the popular, “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying enough hard things.”
Learning from mistakes is a key separator between people who become successful and those that do not. Competitors that want to be the absolute best know there are almost always more useful lessons in a loss, as painful as they may be, than there is in a win.
Perfectionism is a disease that will bog down innovation if you let it. Shipping as soon as there is a minimum viable product—and allowing pivots and iterations—is a necessity.
Fail early, fail often, fail forward.
- Spark with Imagination, Fuel with Data
This maxim encourages marrying pragmatism to your passionate creative work. The market is the ultimate judge. If what you are creating is not wanted—if people are unwilling to part with their attention or money for it—the numbers will tell you with no abashment.
As much as risk-taking is glamourized at times in all types of media and publications, the truly great CEOs are always trying to cap their downsides. Richard Branson worked out a deal to give back his fleet of planes to the manufacturer for a refund if Virgin Airlines was a bust. He negotiated a way to get precious data prior to committing a huge amount of capital.
Let your imagination run—exercise it like a muscle—but don’t ignore feedback. Numbers don’t lie. If it’s not working, pivot.
- Be a Platform
Apple is the posterchild for this maxim. During the second-era of a Jobs-led Apple they managed to build an entire ecosystem of hardware and connected software. iTunes was on your iPod, then your iPhone with all your contacts and GPS, then on your iPad. All this in addition to the original and continued innovations with personal computers.
Google’s version of this is the toothbrush test: Is the project you are considering something that people would interact with at least twice a day? Is it something that will be at least as beneficial and contagious as people using toothbrushes?
Being a useful and unique platform is a way to create a tribe around your innovations. With this comes a cohort of diehards within the group—raging fans that will buy almost anything you put out, at least to try, and word-of-mouth recruit similar folks.
Build a useful ecosystem around the right tribe and watch innovation ignite.
- Have a Mission that Matters
This is another mission-critical maxim for staying cutting-edge. Whether you are a solo artist or part of a billion-dollar company, being driven by a mission that the entire team believes in and deeply cares about is paramount to achieving order of magnitude breakthroughs.
Elon Musk has made this his guiding maxim for the majority of his professional career. The team at PayPal all believed there was a better way to do online banking. Team Tesla believes electric vehicles are a more sustainable, desirable form of transportation. SpaceX employees believe in the exploration and colonization of Mars.
If you choose to work on something that truly matters to you, you may just change the world.
The maxims in this article are based on notes taken from the book Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World. If the subtitle is of interest to you, I highly recommend you check it out.