5 lessons from Google that everyone should learn

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There are two levels at which Google excites. There is a systematic stream of advances, such as those presented at the 2015 Google I/O event earlier this year -- Android M, Google Photos and the like.

Then there is major game-changing news that seems to come out of nowhere but appears to capture the future in an extraordinary way. We all know about the self-driving car that is spurring global innovation in transportation. (Yes, Google has much tweaking to do before we hit public acceptance and high usability. But the moon-shot nature of the initial effort and its impact in pushing the industry to think anew remain valid). Google's Project Loon seeks to use balloons to bring Wi-Fi to the whole world. Then there are the more recent advances in developing ways of detecting heart attacks, cancers and strokes earlier than possible today.

It is easy to look at look at such major advances simply in awe and classify Google as the "other" -- an unreachable company with its super-deep pockets and extraordinary leadership and vision. But step back and you find a core set of behaviors that any company can emulate. These are simple, powerful and financially useful things to learn from Google. These are lessons that anyone can apply to their business to make a positive step toward change.

Here are five things that stand out:

Make your customer experience simple. There is no question that ease of use has been an absolute driver for Google from the start. A clean, uncluttered screen, with an obvious purpose: A search bar, and a click to use it after telling it what to search for. The results, too are uncluttered. It is all just eminently useful.

Ask yourself (along with many other similar questions): Are all those pages and pages on your website just clutter or truly useful to visitors in making buying decisions?

Be data driven. It is said that all decisions at Google are data driven -- "facts trump opinion." Marissa Mayer, now at Yahoo but previously at Google, famously tested 41 shades of blue for the Google logo to arrive at the best one. Ask yourself: How much do you rely on "experience" and "gut feel" from your senior leaders versus analytics and testing to drive success?

Be committed to continual improvement. Doing things right once for the applause and, hopefully, money is not enough. Google is forever trying to improve -- whether it is how their doodles are designed and presented, or a tweak in Gmail, or the breakthroughs that have been achieved in machine translation of Web pages using Big Data approaches. Improvement is a philosophy that can be sustained only through institutional dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Ask yourself: Is "let's not rock the boat" and too close an adherence to "wash, rinse, repeat" the mantras that are giving you incremental success when big results are what you should be going after?

Stop doing what does not work. Remember Google Wave that was to unify email, IM and wikis? Google Buzz for microblogging? Google Reader for RSS? Google, to its credit, has always know 'when to hold them and when to fold them'; these are standalone products that they have killed. What is admirable is to have deep pockets and know when to stop pouring money into a bad idea, or when to merge a nascent idea into another product as its more natural home. Not enough companies do that! Duct tape empires abound where bad ideas don't go away -- they just get added to.

Ask yourself: How much good money have you spent trying to salvage bad situations, tools that have become less relevant, integrations that have just not worked?

Put the R back in R&D. Google may be able to think of the world as its canvas and do bold expensive projects and perhaps you cannot. But even if your canvas is smaller, are you doing any really new thinking or work on future products? My sense is that most companies just tweak the products that they have, or pick adjacent ones that are new to them but not to their industry. Aligning with customer input is the self-congratulatory "new deal." But the "R" is missing for most in R&D, or it is at best a small "r." The future is truly different from the present -- and few companies think in the long term, which creating for the future demands. Even if the risk you can afford to take is fractional, you need to take that risk if you are to go beyond "me too" products.

Ask yourself: How many new ideas does your company really explore, how much do you lose to the mantra "just don't have the time to look at..."?

A simple recipe for success? No -- all of the above require sustained commitment, rather than a flash in the pan. But the recipe is there. Open the right doors to let the future in.

Azmi has over 25 years of experience as an IT leader. He was CIO at Ipswitch, Inc., for the last nine years. In 2013, he was awarded CIO of the Year by Boston Business Journal and Mass High Tech. His LinkedIn profile is here. His blog site is here.

This story, "5 lessons from Google that everyone should learn" was originally published by Computerworld.

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