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Should You Set Goals Like Google?

by John Courtney on May 8, 2017

nasa-43979.jpgGoogle is the most audacious company in the world. Their new projects are often so ahead-of-the-times that it can be hard to differentiate a google press release from a blurb for a sci-fi novel. Google is currently

  • Running a study to understand what a healthy person looks like
  • Figuring out how to make cars run on salt water
  • Launching internet balloons that will bring wifi to every last inch of the world
  • Sending out cars that already drive themselves
  • And of course, moving us closer than anyone to the Singularity

Maybe you work for a company with goals as big as Google’s, but you probably don’t, and that’s ok. Most of us are working on goals like “Increase employee retention 12%.” Steady, incremental improvements designed to help us get a little bit better or even just keep the lights on another year.

There is nothing inherently wrong with incremental goals, but maybe we can also learn something from being a little more like Google, being a little more audacious.

Larry Says No Buffering

Hunter Walk use to work at Google, but these days he invests in startups and writes a great business blog. Hunter recently shared a post about a meeting he once had with Larry Page the founder of Google.

“Larry, this quarter we’re going to aim to reduce buffering events from X to 90% of X through…,” our engineering lead started explaining before Larry looked up from the paper we’d given him.
“You should have zero buffering,” the Google cofounder suggested.
As we detailed why of course that would be impossible because of all the things we can’t control for and the desire to manage our own bandwidth costs, I saw a familiar look settle on Larry’s face. Half-impish (as in “oooh, you really want to go down this rabbit hole with me”) and half-incredulous (as in “Each day I awake with my mind wiped of the fact most people aren’t as smart as I am and then progressively discover during the course of my meetings that you’re all idiots”).
“You should come back with a plan for zero buffering.” End of meeting.

Hunter’s team went back to the drawing board, and something amazing happened. Before, the team had been “tracking occurrences of buffering in the player and browser, trying to categorize the causes (insufficient steady state user bandwidth, connectivity interruption, overworked client CPU, etc) and prioritizing which we could intelligently solve for.” Now with this audacious goal in front of them they were forced to think differently about the problem.

They started by just finding solutions, no matter how impractical they were, for example “A totally private, worldwide high-speed internet with locally cached video and free state-of-the-art PCs for every end user.” They also considered approaching the problem from a different angle, “what if it was more of a design challenge? Imagine a quick transition animation which played when you pressed the Play button that seemed to be a UX affordance but actually allowed us to start caching the video locally so we could tolerate connectivity interruptions in the post-play experience.”

Hunter’s team never achieved the zero buffering goal that Larry had set, but they did radically change their approach and achieve much more aggressive targets then they had originally thought possible, “the nature of the discussion was changed by a simple stretch goal exercise.”

10x vs 10%

Larry’s insistence on zero buffering is called “10x Thinking.” It is Google’s first of 8 principles for their innovative culture. “To put the idea simply: true innovation happens when you try to improve something by 10 times rather than by 10%.”

It is very easy to try. Take whatever it is you are setting a goal for and instead of multiplying it by 1.10 multiply it by 10. Look at that new audacious, Google-sized goal and ask yourself, “how would we do it?”

The beauty of 10x thinking is that there is no way you will be able to reach your 10x goal by just improving what you’re already doing. The exercise forces you to totally rethink your approach, maybe even rethink the problem.

Hunter Walk says “when I talk with any startup – Google scale or not – my easiest recommendation in brainstorming and goal-setting is to not get caught up in just local optimizations, not to stay exclusively in the land of reasonable, but devote some time to 10x Impact conversations.”

So even if you’re just trying to keep the lights on it might be worth thinking in terms of 10x rather than 10%.

    

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