Google's Jenny Zhao at UIC Business

Jenny Zhao, BS ’88, has spent the last two years splitting her time between the Bay Area and Beijing. As Director of Google’s Beijing site, she serves as a key link between Google’s home base in Mountain View, CA, and its work in China, and so on any given day she might be involved in project planning on either side of the Pacific. “Google changes so fast. New projects, new people all the time - it literally keeps me on my toes.”

Today she was in Chicago, seated in lecture center F1 to hear students from Professor Miller’s MGMT 495 class present an analysis of Google. In front of a full hall, the students dissected the company in detail, devoting extra time to Google’s advertising revenues and the success of Android. They wrapped up their analysis with projections for the expansion of research and development under the newly formed Alphabet. Zhao thanked the students for unearthing details about the company with which even she was unfamiliar, and then picked up where they left off, on the topic of research and development.

“Innovation is not just a buzzword,” she told the hall. “It truly is Google’s engine.” She described a workplace where good ideas were abundant and cheap; the real strength of Google’s staff was their ability to build something and show results quickly. “Ideas are worthless,” Zhao said. “Make it and show.” And don’t just show, Zhao said. “10x it.”

10x thinking lies at the heart of Google’s work ethic. When Google engineers develop something new, they don’t merely tell themselves, “but then suppose we had to double the capacity." They assume from the start that managers will need ten times the original capacity of what they’ve built; it's a way of constantly reevaluating the parameters of an idea.

Zhao moved on to frame the discussion in terms of Google’s mission. A mission is hard to develop, she said, but any organization needs one to be strong and to endure through changing times. Google’s mission statement, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” helps focus Google’s work, but it also sparks inquiry and curiosity. “What is information?” she asked the class. “The invisible relationships among all of you, for example. That you are classmates, friends, acquaintances; that you hold certain ideas, things or places in common - this could be information.”

Zhao used Google’s mission to challenge common notions about Google’s competitors. Other web-driven giants like Amazon and Facebook share some overlap with a number of Google’s products and services, but that doesn’t mean they’re all headed in the same direction. “Think of mobile communication apps,” Zhao said. Here, Facebook may be doing similar work, but Amazon doesn’t really show up. And when you consider Google Play or Nexus devices, Amazon reappears as a competitor, but Facebook drops out.

Zhao concluded her visit with a few comments on the importance of failure in innovation. “Google’s is a post mortem culture. Everything we do, at every stage, we stop and document our steps, so that at a future stage we can stop and ask, ‘which decisions did we make at each turn? what might we have done differently?’ For us, innovation has no end. But if we’re truly going to continue moving forward, the problem isn’t failure. Failure’s great; failure is essential. The challenge is getting a clear view of what we’ve done.”