Google (GOOG) Revs Up a Radical Innovation Engine

Don’t you wish more companies would dream big? I don’t mean “big” as in, let’s make some more money next year, or adding a new feature to your flagship product. I’m talking BIG, like changing the world for the better. You know, the way Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) dreams.

Big G just took steps to make sure that the crazy dreams keep coming. CEO Larry Page just reassigned two of his top dreamers to the division that’s supposed to think up bigger, crazier, and more disruptive ideas without worrying too much about the business side of it all.

I thought Rubin was basically fired?
At first glance, these moves might look like demotions. Andy Rubin was part of the Danger/Sidekick team that arguably invented the first proto-smartphone, and his Android platform is now the biggest mobile computing beast in the world. He’s been replaced by the more even-keeled Sundar Pichai, who already oversees the Google Chrome web browser, Chrome OS, and the Google Drive storage product.

This frees Rubin up to “start a new chapter at Google,” in Page’s words. And what might that new chapter look like? “Andy, more moonshots please!”

The original moonshot on July 16, 1969. Image source: NASA.

Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) defines a moonshot this way: “Moonshots live in the gray area between audacious technology and pure science fiction. Instead of a mere 10% gain, a moonshot aims for a 10x improvement over what currently exists. The combination of a huge problem, a radical solution to that problem, and the breakthrough technology that just might make that solution possible, is the essence of a moonshot.”

Keep that far-reaching goal and the CEO’s gleeful order in mind as you read on.

That’s the first big innovation booster Page launched this week. The second came when mapping and commerce services leader Jeff Huber was told to report for work at Google X Lab, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Huber was champing at the bit “to work in more of a start-up-like environment,” a Google spokeswoman confirmed to the Journal.

On the organizational level, these changes simplify Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) from seven core product groups to five, which is a good idea in itself. Fewer divisions means more operational unity, and managers should be able to direct resources more efficiently in a simpler structure.

But that’s not really the goal here. Like I said, it’s all about driving more innovation and more insane moonshot projects.

What is this wacky lab all about?
Huber will definitely land at the X Lab and if the facility is a refrigerator, you can think of Rubin as a giant magnet. They just belong together.

When you hear about silly or outlandish Google projects, you can assume that it started at X Labs. The Google Glass augmented-reality specs that look set to launch at retail this year? An X Lab project.

The most talked-about X Lab project to date. Image source: Wikimedia user Antonio Zugaldia.

Driverless cars, designed to take people from point A to point B without the risk of human error? Another X Lab deal. Johnny Chung Lee helped Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) revolutionize video games with the Xbox Kinect controller-less gaming system. Now he’s at Google X, working on “the Web of things,” where machines talk to each other to make daily life safer, easier, and more fun.

These are just the best-known X Lab projects. Most of what happens there is kept tightly under wraps. Part of that is because Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) wants to get a jump on the competition in case any of these ideas become commercial hits, but that’s not all. The world might just not be ready for some of these crazy stunts yet.

Straight from the Captain’s mouth
The Lab even has an official Captain of Moonshots. Dr. Astro Teller holds a Ph.D. In artificial intelligence and develops “seemingly impossible ideas that through science and technology can be brought to reality.” You get one guess at where he works. Hint: I believe he’ll work closely with  Rubin and Huber in the near future.

Teller spoke on audacity and innovation at this week’s South by Southwest festival. He’s a big fan of Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) founder Elon Musk — not because he’s achieved success in electric cars and space travel, but because he dared to attack those seemingly unreachable goals at all. “He’s like a walking moonshot. He’s so audacious, it seems limitless.”

He also underscored one of the foundational concepts of Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) itself: Make something great and the money follows naturally. “If you’re adding huge amounts of value to the world, the money will come back and find you,” Teller said. Read that statement with Google’s stated 10-point philosophy in mind: “We take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line. … You can make money without doing evil. … Ultimately, our constant dissatisfaction with the way things are becomes the driving force behind everything we do.”

If you don’t believe these things, you’re a pretty poor job candidate at Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG). Not only that, but you probably shouldn’t even own the stock. Personally, I find this mind-set incredibly bold, valuable, and inspirational.

I can think of a few so-called inventors who focus more on the short-term bottom line, where your money might sleep more comfortably right now. Just don’t complain a decade or two down the road, when Google’s “impossible” inventions have changed the world and today’s money-making wonders will be forgotten.

What’s next?
That’s the environment into which Larry Page is pushing two of his most innovative lieutenants this week — reporting directly to his fellow founder, Sergey Brin. Their work will likely be classified, top-secret, leak-this-and-you’re-fired, but I can’t wait to see what they cook up in the long run.

As a human being, this stuff renews my faith in a better future. As a Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) shareholder, I’m beyond excited about the lifelong value the company is building in that strange lab.

The article Google Revs Up a Radical Innovation Engine originally appeared on

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Google, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out Anders’ bio and holdings or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Tesla Motors, Microsoft, and Google.

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