Google Atmosphere: think creatively and innovate boldly
This Welsh Public Services 2025 paper clearly outlines that we’re in a challenging time for public services, as there are fewer resources to deliver services in a time of rising demand. If we can’t continue to deliver the services in the same way, how can we start changing the way we work? It was with this in mind that I watched Google’s Atmosphere, which shared lessons from organisations in the private sector.
Where do innovative ideas come from?
In this session Tim Brown from IDEO looked at how we need to think about our options in a completely different way if we’re looking for radically different solutions. He examined how we consider our issues, in the sense that if we frame questions in a really specific way, we have little scope to come up with solutions that look genuinely different. The example given was around asking the question “How do we make this chair more comfortable?” If we instead ask “How might we sit in different ways?” there is much more scope to think and work differently.
This chimes with Google’s 10x thinking, where issues are radically approached by trying to improve something by 10 times rather than by 10%. The only way to make those kind of improvements is to think in a different way.
Cultivating team innovation: A look inside the work rules of Google
Listening to Laszlo Bock from Google was heartening, as it echoed aspects of our Staff Ideas webinar from a few weeks ago. Laszlo emphasised the importance of staff engagement. It’s easy for managers to stick with what they know, because they’ve become managers by making good decisions. But as Laszlo pointed out, the sum of employee intelligence is huge, and we must make the most of it.
It’s fascinating that decisions at Google aren’t based on gut instincts, but that they rely on data. Their Project Oxygen was designed to identify the traits of successful Google managers. The team working on the project spent a year examining data from appraisals, employee surveys, awards and other sources, which resulted in more than 10,000 observations of manager behaviours.
Accomplishing business innovation: How Airbnb transformed an industry
We’ve been doing some work on risk management lately (including running a webinar on the topic), so Jonathan Mildenhall of Airbnb’s points on risk were very timely. Jonathan encouraged us to take risks and to celebrate both failure and success. Their monthly ritual of celebrating fabulous failures encourages this culture, as it focuses on ideas that didn’t progress as planned. Jonathan said that “The more a company celebrates failure, the more confident a company gets in taking risks. The more confident a company gets in taking risks, the more successful those risks are.”
In case you’re wondering how this learning might be applied in the public sector, Chris Bolton has written a series of blogposts that look at how we might approach failure, including this great summary post on loving and learning from failure.
Well managed risk taking in the public sector
The Auditor General for Wales has repeatedly advocated well managed risk taking, and you can see him doing so in the above video. As he says, if those risks are well managed, instead of casting blame on any failure, we’ll be looking to share the lessons that have been learnt.