The Crazy Idea Process
Physicist Isador Isaac Rabi, who won the Nobel Prize is said to have said:
“My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference— asking good questions— made me become a scientist!’’
Asking good questions is one part of the creative process at Google X (Alphabet’s moon shot factory, which searches for the next big idea).
X’s creative process was recently traversed in a probing article in the November edition of The Atlantic: Google X and the Science of Radical Creativity.
The long and the short of X’s approach as explored by The Atlantic:
- Address a huge problem, suggest a radical solution, take a feasible path
- Start with the right questions, not with brainstorming smart answers
- Invest in both invention and innovation (an innovation is an invention made commercial) i.e. develop an end-to-end process of question / create / discover / produce
- Evaluate ideas rapidly (panels of creators who are also judges). Eliminate if the right balance of audacity and achievability is not there – and have failure bonuses for people who shut down weak projects!
- Build a culture with ‘psychological safety,’ celebrating high-risk experimentation, rewarding fast failure, and sharing stories of success / failure
X exists to ‘solve huge problems and to build the next Google.’ The fruits of X are still to be seen and The Atlantic questions the value of moon shots versus “the modest innovations that typically produce the most-valuable products.”
I look at it this way: innovation flows from creativity (visa-versa to a much lesser degree), and the best way to get a big idea is to have lots of small ideas and to fail fast, learn fast, fix fast. The crazies with the crazy ideas will create the greatest leaps, and organisations like X with the ambition and pockets to go from 0 to 100 are to be roared on. Go X.
(As an aside, when I was at Saatchi & Saatchi we acquired a shopper marketing company called Thompson Murray in Northwest Arkansas to service our consumer packaged goods clients. We were agreed that the company was to be rebranded to become part of the Saatchi & Saatchi family. But what to call it? I remember arriving at the airport in Bentonville, and when collecting my bag I saw the airport identifier on the carousel. XNA. The company became Saatchi & Saatchi X. From the latest look, they continue to do cutting edge work in the shopper marketing space.)