Innovation is key, no matter what your business. And at a behemoth like Google, said John Cousens, managing director, public sector at Google Cloud Canada, it means taking what he called an approach of 10x thinking: coming up with radical solutions to huge problems, and solutions that provide a 10x improvement over what was done before.
That approach can also work for the public sector, he said in his keynote at IT World Canada’s Technicity GTA 2023 virtual event today.
Google has six primary principles around innovation, but to Cousens, the most important one for the public sector and those who work there is the first: Psychological safety.
“Psychological safety is a condition in which humans feel included, safe to learn, and safe to contribute, and safe to challenge the status quo,” he said. “Often government, which has a hierarchical structure, challenges people to be able to express or do that in that hierarchy.”
It is, he added, not necessarily conducive to psychological safety if someone has to sit in front of a committee and defend something – “it’s adversarial in nature, versus open and transparent.”
“So how do you have that psychological safety, where people are free to test things out and push different boundaries? That is a number one predictor of team success at Google, and I believe in public sector, we could adopt some more of these principles to ensure that we can drive this kind of success when we’re looking at digital transformation across the board.”
The second principle is Focus on the User. Google platforms are widely adopted, he said, because they are user-centric. “Focus on the user and everything else will follow,” he said. And be transparent – share information. Collaboration helps drive a culture of innovation.
“And frankly, innovation comes from everywhere,” said Cousens. “Too often in government, especially in technology, we find ourselves saying, ‘I’m this type of a shop’. In the digital era, I would argue that you can no longer say ‘I only use this tech’, because innovation is coming at us faster than ever before. And innovation comes from everywhere.”
Google, he said, tries to inspire innovation by encouraging employees to have 20 per cent projects – side projects that aren’t part of their core role.
“Taking this kind of principle means that no one’s questioning agendas. No one is questioning where the strategy is. It’s in the open and all the time,” Cousens noted.
Finally, he said, “have a healthy disregard for the impossible.” Don’t be bound by the status quo. Google, for example, he noted, has been using its Waze data, originally gathered to assist drivers in getting around traffic jams, and Google Cloud to give cities insights into everything from traffic patterns to environment insights around emissions.
It also provides the Waymo open data set containing data collected from millions of kilometres of autonomous driving in urban environments, which, Google says, empowers autonomous smart mobility providers with data.
“Think about this for the future of how we’re looking at innovation,” he said.