Mayer Tells How Innovation Gets Done
April 1, 2007
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Mayer, Google’s 31-year-old vice president of search products
and user experience, helps drive one of the world’s most
forward-thinking product innovation organizations. And when Mayer
talks about the more than 300 computers a Google search query
transverses in milliseconds to answer a user request, or the downside
of network latency (speed of response), you know this Stanford
alum knows her stuff.
Mayer graduated with honors from Palo Alto with a bachelor’s
in symbolic systems and a master’s in computer science.
Her specialty is artificial intelligence. She was the first female
engineer hired at Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc. in 1999.
Since then, Newsweek named her one of the “10 Tech Leaders
of the Future,” Red Herring called her one of the “15
Women to Watch,” and Business 2.0, Businessweek, Fortune
and Fast Company all have written about her. Stanford honored
her with a Centennial Teaching Award and the Forsythe Award, an
award that recognizes research that melds informatics and the
There’s one other thing you should know about Mayer: She’s
one of the world’s top marketers. You won’t see that
in her online bio at Google.com. The Internet search and online
advertising giant eschews marketing and likes to proclaim itself
as “not a marketing organization.” Yet Mayer is one
of the most impressive marketers of our generation, both for the
products she’s brought to market and for the product innovation
philosophy she embodies.
When Mayer reads this, she’ll say it’s a team effort
at Google. But she leads the product management efforts on Google’s
search products, including Web search, images, groups, news, Froogle,
the Google Toolbar, Google Desktop, Google Labs and more.
Mayer believes in the products and tools she creates. She’s
deeply committed to Google’s mission to organize the world’s
information and make it universally accessible. While some product
innovators are motivated by greed, Mayer wants to put effective
software tools into everyone’s hands. She sees the power
that information provides and the way it changes and shapes lives.
Mayer wants to close the digital divide.
“I just think about how different my life is today because
of the Internet versus how it was 20 years ago. I think it’s
really upsetting there are still people who can’t get the
information,” Mayer says.
Mayer hales from Wausau, Wis., and recently returned to the Midwest
to speak at one of the bastions of marketing, the Kellogg Graduate
School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
Why invite Mayer to Kellogg? “We wanted Mayer because of
Google’s popularity, spectacular growth and the YouTube
acquisition,” says Mark Vovsi, a second-year MBA candidate
and general manager of the Kellogg Technology Conference.
Vovsi hit the nail on the head: “We wanted Mayer because
of the central role that Google’s products play in everyone’s
‘digital’ lifestyle.” Mayer’s products
are changing our lives.
Her mantra about product innovation is powerful. All marketers
should take note. The gist is simple: Recruit really great people.
Give them space to create. Put products into the market. Listen
to customers. Refine your products. Keep innovating. Let the products
speak for themselves. Don’t worry about marketing.
After years of reading the great works on product innovation I
was spellbound by Mayer’s Kellogg presentation. I wanted
to learn more. So I went to YouTube and found another presentation
Mayer gave on product innovation at Stanford. There, Mayer outlined
nine ideas about innovation that could benefit every marketer:
come from everywhere—Set up a system where good
ideas rise to the top.
everything you can—Don’t be territorial
brilliant, we’re hiring—Hire the best people;
they challenge you to work at a higher level.
license to pursue dreams—Google allots individuals
20% time to work on whatever they choose. (Fifty percent of
Google’s product launches in the second half of 2005 came
from this program).
not instant perfection—Put products in the market,
learn and iterate.
is apolitical—Make decisions based on market
loves constraint—When you constrain your thoughts,
you see innovation. (They wanted Google Desktop search to run
on 90% of computers. That constraint drove a lot of creativity).
on users, not money—Money follows consumers.
Advertisers follow consumers. If you amass a lot of consumers
you will find a way to monetize your ideas.
kill projects, morph them—If an idea has managed
to make it out the door, there is usually some kernel of truth
to it. Don’t walk away from ideas, think of ways to repackage
or rejuvenate them.
advice to young marketers is simple: Push beyond your comfort
zone. Before joining Google, for example, Mayer took a job at
the UBS research lab in Zurich, Switzerland. “I like to
do things that I’m a little not ready to do,” Mayer
adds, “like moving to Switzerland when I don’t speak
you do something that you’re not ready to do, you learn
whole new skill sets,” she goes on. “It is those risks
that ultimately cause you to find your boundaries and get good
at things you weren’t good at before.”
that kind of attitude could make you and your marketing organization
Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago,
and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com