Lessons from Google: Get Big, Think Small

Yesterday, I was privileged enough to see Google Glass in person and to hear from Ben Malbon (@Malbonnington), the managing director of Google Creative Lab. I’ve been excited to see him, as I have been a fan of Creative Lab since the creation of The Wilderness Downtown and more recently started reading the seminal In The Plex by Steven Levy.

The presentation included several intriguingly simple statements that sum up how Google became (basically) the supreme ruler of the internet: One was the “two pizza rule” that says teams should never grow past the point where they can’t be fed with two pizzas. Another stated that you should “move fast and break things.”

But the best statements of them all were to “be uncomfortably ambitious” and that “small>big.”

Be Uncomfortably Ambitious

Always aim to be ten times better, rather than ten percent better.  This summarizes what makes Google a world leader in innovation.

Since its nascent stage, Google’s always been an ambitious company. Co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin envisioned an uber-efficient search engine that would answer people’s need for information. They wanted users to quickly find information, leaving Google’s website as soon as possible. The naysayers wondered why anyone would invest in a company that openly wanted its site to be less sticky. The visionaries saw the future.


Google succeeds today because, even though it has grown to be a multi-billion-dollar business, it continues to think like a start-up. In fact, Google is famous for its 70/20/10 innovation model, where 20 percent of work time should be dedicated to side projects. Several of Google’s innovations have come from that 20 percent.

To paraphrase Ben Malbon: Rather than creating one large fire, Google kindles hundreds of small fires.

Encouraging employees to pursue their own ambitions incubates an unyielding culture of innovation.

Special thanks to Professor Edward Boches (@edwardboches) for bringing Malbon to BU and to Mullen for underwriting the event.

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