A Lesson from Google: Why Innovation is the Key to Your Company's Future I’ve always said that innovation is a key driver of business success. We saw this in action with Google. Back when Google was a startup, they focused heavily on innovation in search. As a result, they created a major source of income and a name for themselves as the dominant search engine.

Google was able to accomplish this in a relatively short amount of time because they kept the pipeline of innovation going and encouraged their engineers to spend 20% of their time coming up with new ideas. As a result, they gave us Gmail, Google Maps, Chrome, and a host of other advances.

One of the hard trends happening right now is that the main computer people use is shifting from a laptop/desktop to a smart phone and tablet. This shift started two years ago and was fully predictable. Just look back over my previous blogs and you’ll see I was talking about this shift long before it happened.

When the trend started to emerge, what did Google do? They saw the iPhone and its success and they introduced the Android. It was a bit more copying than innovating, but they did still innovate (albeit just a little bit).

Where Google dropped the innovation ball was with social media. They saw Facebook grow incredibly, so they introduced Google+. Was much innovation involved? Not really. It’s definitely more copying than anything else. They simply made their own version of Facebook. No wonder Google+ is having a hard time taking off.

Here’s the problem: When you focus on your competition and copy them, you end up competing with them. However, when you focus on innovation, you become the competition and others try to copy you. That’s a huge difference.

Realize that no matter how hard you try to copy someone, you can never catch up because the leader is innovating. In fact, the only way to really catch up is to jump ahead.

Unfortunately, Google became so focused on social media that they lost their original spirit of true innovation. I even heard that the engineers who spent 20% of their time on innovation were told to focus that time on innovation within the realm of social. That, of course, dilutes the innovation engine.

Moving forward, I’d like to see all companies, not just Google, get back on the innovation bandwagon. For any company to thrive in the future, innovation, not copying, is the key. Remember that we’re in a world of exponential transformational change. With bandwidth, processing power, and storage accelerating so rapidly, it’s truly a time for every company to innovate at new levels. Technology has leveled the playing field, and the game is changing. It’s time to stop playing the old game and start defining the new one.

Daniel Burrus

Article first published as A Lesson From Google on Technorati.