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The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

April - 2006 - issue > In My Opinion

Creative companies innovate by incorporating exploration

Krishna Bharat
Friday, March 31, 2006
Krishna Bharat
Watching young children at play can be fascinating. When my kids were little and were first learning to play with Lego blocks, I would see them do everything physically possible with those pieces of plastic. Besides forming towers and houses as we were hoping they would, they lined them up to form roads, used them as projectiles, filled the blocks with water, and much more. As a parent one is anxious to see progress and it is tempting to guide the child to the one correct application of Legos, but every book on parenting will tell you that's a mistake. Children love to explore and sharpen their creativity in the process. In a sense they are true scientists, operating purely on curiosity, figuring out how the world works one conceptual Lego block at a time.

Adults have little opportunity for curiosity-guided exploration, especially in the workplace. Employers who value schedules over serendipity and adherence to process over creative freedom are largely to blame. We, at Google, see things differently and decided to make creative exploration a cardinal virtue at work. In part this was due to our somewhat unconventional evolution. Most companies evolve top down from a business plan. Google, on the other hand, evolved from a graduate student project at Stanford, almost accidentally.

Our founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, had no plans of starting a company when they began looking at the web as a domain for research. Instead they had a deep desire to understand what the linkage between web pages could teach them about the quality of authorship. Each link, they felt, was like an endorsement from one author to another.

Then came the big leap of imagination. What if you looked at 100 million pages and all of their outbound links - you might then discover perhaps a billion endorsements between authors. Could you build a mathematical model that unified all those observations and use it to measure the value of every page on the web? This became known as Pagerank, a web-scale mathematical computation for ranking, and a fundamental component of Google's ranking ever since.

Interesting though the insight was, Larry and Sergey were not ready to accept it as credible technology until it could be proven in practice. Thus, Google was born, a full-fledged search engine. Most research at universities is aimed at generating academic papers. Inventors, on the other hand, care less about recognition and more about seeing their ideas work for real. There is great joy in translating an idea into practice as any enterprising toddler can tell you.


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