Innovate or Die

business leader business owner ceo entrepreneur survival Apr 05, 2022

You only have two choices in life, Innovate or die.  Many companies have learned this fatal lesson over the years and became extinct.  Do you remember MySpace, Blockbuster or Circuit City?  They failed to innovate and were swallowed up by the competition.

Robert Kiyosaki, the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, says it best.  Doing more with less is a crucial principle to learn; especially if you are going to be in business in this rapidly changing world.”

Bold leaders understand the importance of innovation.  Are you the person that gets excited about change?  Or are you the person who is satisfied with the status quo?  If you are the latter, you will soon become extinct.


Today we are going to look at one of the world’s most innovative companies.  Discuss their 8 pillars of innovation and discuss how you can use this information to transform your organization.

In March of 1992, I was 2 months away from completing the most rigorous education and training program in the world.  I was about to graduate from the United States Air Force Academy.  I had dreamed my entire life about becoming an Air Force Pilot.  But unbeknownst to us, the Air Force had different plans.  The Chief of Staff announced that over 60% of our class would be deferred and may have the opportunity to complete pilot training at a later date.  My dreams were crushed.  Emotions ran high and I really wondered why I had wasted the last 4 years of my life.  It was awful.  Little did I know how much this decision by the Air Force would positively affect my life.   As a brand new 2nd Lt I learned the importance of embracing change.  Eventually, I attended pilot training and spent 17 years of my life flying missions all over the globe.  The lessons I learned early in my career afforded me the opportunity to command 3 squadrons and reach my goals.  

Being innovative means that you are quickly able to adapt and change with the environment.  No company on earth understands this better than Google.  Let’s discuss Google’s 8 Pillars of Innovation and how you can change your company to compete like never before.

Have a mission that matters

Work can be more than a job when it stands for something you care about.  People are more inspired and work harder when they follow a mission or a cause as opposed to an individual.  If people don’t believe in the mission, they work for a paycheck.  I can tell you from experience that this does not benefit your company.   Think about our young soldiers that put their life on the line every day.  Most of them make less than $30,000 per year.  They step in front of bullets and jump on grenades to defend their freedom.  They don’t do it for the person in charge, they do it because they believe in the mission.

Think big but start small

No matter how ambitious the plan is, you have to roll up your sleeves and start somewhere.  Have you ever heard the phrase how do you eat an elephant… one bite at a time?  Huge dreams and goals seem impossible at first.  You feel overwhelmed and many times don’t know where to start.  The challenge is to just start.  Once you take that first step and see progress it will motivate you to keep moving.  The journey will be amazing.  You will learn many lessons along the way.  The path may change.  Just don’t stop.  Keep moving towards that impossible goal and you will get there.  

Strive for continual innovation, not instant perfection

The best part of innovation? We get do-overs. Lots of them. Do not expect to be perfect on your first attempt.  You will continually refine your program, process, product, and approach.  If you innovate through every iteration, you will remain relevant to your customers. Never stop learning and never stop innovating.  If you do, you will eventually become extinct.  We live in a rapidly changing world.  It moves fast.  Look for improvements every day to ensure success

Look for ideas everywhere

You never know where your next great idea is going to present itself.  Look everywhere.  This means that you are always seeking feedback, always soliciting news ideas, and always innovating.  Some of the greatest ideas that I have ever generated have come from social settings.  As a young Lt, we were expected to be at the Officer’s Club every Friday night.  At first glance you might believe that this was “scheduled fun”, but it was more than that.  All of the commanders always showed up at the club.  We each had an opportunity to ask questions, challenge ideas, and learn from our leaders.  These events strengthened our organization.  We developed bonds that enabled us to solve extremely challenging problems.  It also gave our leaders unique insights as to the daily challenges we faced.  I personally changed how our customer service division operated based on the feedback I received from our customers on Friday night.  This resulted in the organization winning multiple national awards.  Looking back I realize that looking for ideas everywhere enabled our team to be more efficient and more effective.  

Share everything

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.” 

Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts On Common Things...The 1st Item on the List is Share Everything

Google’s employees know pretty much everything that’s going on and why decisions are made. Every quarter, Google shares the entire Board Letter with all 26,000 employees, and we present the same slides presented to the Board of Directors in a company-wide meeting.

By sharing everything, you encourage the discussion, exchange and re-interpretation of ideas, which can lead to unexpected and innovative outcomes. Google tries to facilitate this by working in small, crowded teams in open cube arrangements, rather than individual offices.

When someone has an idea or needs input on a decision, they can just look up and say, ‘Hey…’ to the person sitting next to them. Maybe that cube-mate will have something to contribute as well. The idea for language translation in Google Talk came out of conversations between the Google Talk and Google Translate teams when they happened to be working near one another.

Spark with imagination, fuel with data

If you imagine it, you can build it, but you might be wrong.  Don’t be afraid to be wrong.  Try new things then use data to validate the idea.  You must believe that the impossible can become a reality.  If not, you will never be destined for greatness.  Just think if President had not challenged the nation to put a man on the moon in ten years.  Our space program during the 50s and 60s created more innovative products that are still used today than at any other time in history.  Great companies give their team time for “blue sky” thinking.  It is during these times that most great ideas come to fruition.  

What begins with intuition is fueled by insights. If you’re lucky, these reinforce one another. For a while, the number of Google search results displayed on a page was 10 simply because Google’s founders thought that was the best number. Google eventually did a test, asking users, ‘Would you like 10, 20, or 30 search results on one page?’ They unanimously said they wanted 30. But 10 results did far better in actual user tests because the page loaded faster. It turns out that providing 30 results was 20 percent slower than providing 10, and what users really wanted was speed. That’s the beautiful thing about data – it can either back up your instincts or prove them totally wrong.

Be a platform

There is so much awe-inspiring innovation being driven by people all over the globe.  You must look at your organization as a platform that enables anyone, anywhere, to apply their unique skills, perspective, and passions to the creation of new ideas, products, and features that align with your brand.  When extending collaboration outside of your organization, you grow your ability to generate new ideas, new applications, and new uses for your company’s products.  More importantly, you enable a free-flowing feedback loop for your partners and customers.  By finding ways to work together, your organization can increase its flexibility, improve innovation and increase revenues.  

Never fail to fail

This is by far my favorite pillar at Google.  It is the challenge I present to every team I have led using one simple statement as each member joined the team.  “I challenge you to fail”.  I actually mentioned this idea to a hiring manager a few years ago and got a very quizzical look.  I honestly think this guy thought I was crazy.  He did not get it and I did not take a job with that organization.  When you give people in your organization permission to take chances and try new ideas you empower them to make decisions without fear of reprisal.  The young leaders in the organizations I had the privilege of leading never ceased to amaze me with their innovation.  Sometimes they did fail, but the amazing part of the failure was how much they learned.  If you are not failing then you are not pushing yourself hard enough.  More importantly, you are not learning, not getting stronger, and not reaching your full potential.  You must always find a way to yes and resist the temptation to say no.  Do not let the fear of failure limit your future potential.

You are either moving forward or moving backward.  Life will never stand still.  Now go innovate and build a better company.


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