Inside Google's Innovation Playground: Strategies for Impact in Wide Spaces
An interview to an experienced leader working in the broad and complex Learning field at Google
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Many of us work in complex environments where the set of opportunities we can potentially pursue to impact a desired outcome is very wide.
As you can imagine, at Google, you can find both very complex and large environments, and opportunities to innovate in multiple directions.
In this episode, I spoke with Stefan Schnabl, who works in the education space at Google, with the potential to cover very different audiences, problems, and solutions.
He shared many tips and stories, from how they align on direction down to how the team does research and experimentation in the space to identify strong opportunities.
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My takeaways from this episode
Stefan started by describing the complex space and the drivers used to align the team on what areas to focus on. They developed what they call principles, that directed topics like the audience, the part of the learning experience they aimed for, and the type of solutions (scalability) they could explore.
As a first step in the strategy journey, Stefan mentioned a diagnosis phase (which he calls “taking inventory”), which interestingly also covered identifying “what they didn’t know” about some regions of expertise or the “surfaces” they were working with.
One of the complexities that Stefan highlighted is the variation and unpredictability of the learning environment, which comes with a different set of strategic challenges. This is how they started using their “pilots” framework.
“Pilots” is their way to take discovery to the strategy level. They started by creating a rubric that helped set direction in two ways: (1) clearly stating and aligning what was valuable from team to leadership and (2) having a way to assess the success of different ideas based on the results of initial experiments.
We explored the intricacies of measuring impact in learning. The rubric contains elements similar to a RICE score, but the final correlation to productivity or other changes in behavior after the learning experience is more complex to evaluate.
For the creation and evaluation of pilots, the team created several templates. However, those artifacts were optional. It was more like guides and guardrails than a bureaucratic step-by-step process.
To synthesize, they combined a strategy charter, combining all the principles, the reasons, the way to evaluate pilots, and everything that was part of explaining the context.
The pilots program is explained in more detail in Stefan’s article here.
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