Q&A with Frederik Pferdt, Head of Innovation and Creativity at Google

Many people think they need a big budget to innovate, but that’s simply not the case. Frederik Pferdt, head of innovation and creativity at Google, works with teams to encourage idea generation, creativity and innovation. Frederik walks the walk—he founded The Garage, a space that encourages employees to think beyond the limits, with a big idea and a small budget. Here, Frederik shares actionable tips for business leaders and entrepreneurs looking to create a workplace of innovation.

Explore your creativity by building legos

Photo courtesy of Mark Wickens

Q: How does access to money impact the ability to innovate?

A: As long as you have access to the Internet, you can build applications and technologies on a limited budget. Google’s first servers were built from Legos and other random materials out of a garage in Palo Alto. We’re increasingly seeing this form of innovation today, with companies like Uber and Airbnb taking an idea and quickly translating it into something meaningful.

Having a lot of money can actually hinder you if you’re focused on allocating those resources rather than investing in your people or your idea. And while people might feel incentivized by money for two or three weeks, over time that motivation flattens out. Focus on following a meaningful mission and empowering people to feel they can impact people’s lives through technology.

Q: What advice would you give people/companies looking to create a workplace that fosters innovation?

A: Innovation is about creating an environment for people to innovate. Don’t ordain innovation. If you give people freedom, they will amaze you. Here are two ways to build this kind of environment:

  • Build trust. When you build trust within teams, or between leaders and their teams, you create an environment for innovation. Share information and make it easily accessible—whether that’s shared calendars, projects in progress or team objectives.

  • Encourage risk-taking. Incentivize teams to push the boundaries and model this behavior among leadership. Things might break and fail, but that’s how you learn and grow fast.

Frederik Pferdt, Head of Innovation and Creativity at Google

Photo courtesy of Mark Wickens

Q: The Garage is a space where employees have the freedom to dream big. Tell me more about the role of the physical space in encouraging innovation.

A: Physical space is the body language of an organization—collaboration happens through its tools, materials and design. With The Garage we wanted to encourage experimentation. We intentionally designed it to blend the playfulness of a kid’s room with the chaos of a messy garage. It’s a place where people can find neat tools like 3D printers and laser cutters, along with other people who are developing new ideas. That proximity helps foster creativity.

Even if your space is unfinished, get started. As you experiment with different concepts for the space, think about what you want to achieve. Do you want to encourage risk-taking, or is your goal to inspire more collaboration? You’ll see what works and doesn’t work. We started The Garage with old car parts, a 3D printer and a couple of whiteboards. We intended to remove that friction between idea generation and building—so it was beautiful to see people progress their ideas from sketches to physical prototypes.

Q: How can you create a space that empowers people to put ideas into action?

A: If you give people enough freedom to explore their passions, you create a marketplace where the best ideas bubble up naturally. If people want to help you move an idea forward, it’s probably a good one (and vice versa). Encourage people to identify those good ideas and invest their resources—specifically time—in realizing them.

As Frederik says, fostering innovation doesn’t require a large budget. In fact the most innovative ideas have sprung from a couple of entrepreneurs coming up with an idea with minimal resources and a limited budget. Dream big and start with something small.

Handout: 3 ways to get started

  • Establish trust and transparency
  • Start small (but start) with what you have
  • Create a space that supports your team’s goals

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  • Author
    Frederik Pferdt, Head of Innovation and Creativity, Google

  • Topics
    Culture, Innovation, Workplace

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