The “secret sauce” of Google’s idea generation

In Reinventing the Organization, Arthur Yeung and Dave Ulrich explain “how companies can deliver radically greater value in fast-changing markets.” They focus on several companies, including Amazon, Facebook, and Google, in the U.S.; Alibaba, Huawei, and Tencent in China; and Supercell in Europe.

Here’s what Heung and Ulrich learned about Google’s “secret sauce” for idea generation during three time-periods:


Bottom-up innovative products that enhance product richness and variety as well as creativity and a sense of initiative in employees. Example results: Gmail, Google Adsense, Google News.


Top-down, focused investments driving the rapid development of new products in strategic directions and product solutions with heavy investment of resources. Example results: Google Plus, Google Cloud.


Google: development of the company is driven by top-down decisions on product innovation in strategic business fields as well bottom-up innovation that optimizes performance. All are equally important.

Other bets: The development and incubation of bottom-up, revolutionary, innovative businesses or technologies. Example results: Waymo, Caklico, Vedrily.

Yeung and Ulrich includes these comments by Greg Satell about Google’s integration efforts:

“What makes Google special is the way that it’s been able to integrate an entire portfolio of innovation strategies into a seamless whole. Product managers focus on customer needs. Researchers go where the4 science takes them. Engineers working on 20% time projects follow their passions. Anybody who wants to can adopt one or more of these approaches.

“That takes more than management philosophy or streamlined operation. — it requires a true spirit of discovery deeply embedded into the organization’s DNA.”

From “Want to Do Corporate Innovation Right? Go Inside Google’s Brain,” HBR, June 2016

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To learn more about Arthur Yeung and his work, please click here.

To learn more about Dave Ulrich and his work, please click here.

Reinventing the Organization was published by Harvard Business Review Press (September 2019).


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