Daily Inquisition of Ideas.
Of hot ideas and rotten eggs.
Children are imaginative. They throw a Matchbox car and make it fly. There you have a flying car – and of course, it flies to the moon. At ‘Moonshot Factory Google X’ they work on the same principle. They find radically simple solutions. After all, the Google’s incubator is designed to hatch tomorrow’s key technologies. But which ideas are really worth rewarding and which are just rotten eggs?
The answer comes from Google X’s own inquisition of ideas, known as Rapid Evaluation. This is where ideas are kicked, punched, taken apart, and made to collapse – until those ideas admit that they are not yet ready to change the world. Generally speaking, not a single idea out of a hundred survives. And it is precisely this selection strategy which is the key to making Google X so successful. It is also why only the X has survived from the name Google X.
„We believe in dreams at the moonshot factory. And enthusiastic scepticism isn’t the enemy of boundless optimism. It’s optimism’s perfect partner. It unlocks the potential in every idea. It makes the seemingly impossible actually accomplishable. We can create the future that’s in our dreams.“ – Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots at X
The radical inquisition of ideas is based on a ‘10X Thinking’ philosophy. It isn’t enough just to improve existing technologies. A real innovation has to be ten times better than anything that existed before. It has to change the lives of at least a billion people. First you take a really big, socially relevant problem – one that has existed for a long time or that will matter to people in the future. Second, you proclaim a really radical solution to that problem – a solution which is so uncompromising, that represents such a perfect product or such an absolute service, that it is like something out of a science fiction movie. Thirdly you test whether the idea can become reality. If so, then you make a prototype and send it to the next Rapid Evaluation.
At X there is one Rapid Evaluation after each stage of development, or more. That’s because every step forwards means discovering the total impossibility of that way of solving the problem. If investigating the problem is too expensive, if the problem cannot be overcome with sufficient tenacity or creativity, if implementing it would take more than ten years, if there is no actual scientific evidence in sight for the envisaged solution, then a project is halted – or put on ice. As we say, that almost always happens. The total budget of X is unknown. But there are known monetary limits. If for example an idea’s feasibility can only be ascertained by an experiment that costs $200 million, then it is too expensive even for X and will be halted.
X – hothouse incubation.
More than 100 ideas are tested for feasibility each year at Google X. If an idea makes it through to the prototype phase or even the development phase, then it is still tested. Someone comes along to bring its advocates down to earth, saying: “Who’s going to buy that? Who’s really going to benefit? Is it legal?” The good thing about this is you never have to work on too many ideas at once. X may not say which ideas and how many ideas it is working on at any given time, but it probably isn’t any more than ten.
The most popular surviving X projects are Google Car, Google Loon, Google Glass, Google Watch. The list of successful incubations is long and getting longer. It is what makes Google a pioneering company, it makes customers loyal because they simply can’t get enough of all the inventions, and those who are involved in it see the prospects of reward. BlingBling times 10. In principle, X’s total portfolio aims to make a profit – but that doesn’t necessarily mean every product. Some products will perform better in business than others, if you measure such things in dollars. Others may influence the world a lot but without ever involving much marketing.
Successful because you understand less and less.
There are 250 people working at X – people who can live with failed projects. They are encouraged and trained by their managers to test potential solutions until they fail. When that happens, not only do they get a high-five from the boss, they get a bonus. These are people who are able to think outside the box and work across disciplines. Sculptors work with former military employees, fashion designers with aircraft engineers. And there are some big names working at X too. Rich DeVaul, Astro Teller, Mitch Heinrich and Sebastian Thrun are some of the better known among them. Unlike scientists who know more and more about less and less – their very particular specialized area within a particular branch of research – these people, in a way, know less and less about more and more.