I can't say there was standing room only at Marissa Mayer's (VP of Search Products & User Experience) PARC Forum talk "Innovation at Google: The Physics of Data" -- because the fire code for the auditorium doesn't allow standing. They did bring in extra chairs and let the rest watch via TV in the lobby. So many reasons for the talk to be popular: Google, Innovation at Google, Big Data issues, Marissa's presentation style (engaging, you feel like your getting a secret tour). I'd gone because of the big data and innovation focus and came away with a better understanding of their process, and how their management style is as empirical as their products. She opened by explaining the title of the talk. Besides the fact that it sounds cool, Google is on a physics kick with products like: Google Wave, Google Fusion, and their focus on acceleration. She quickly moved to how data helps them build better products. She gave a clear example in terms of the testing that went into their choice of the shade of blue used in their links (see mention on Gigaom). Another example was how Google Trends can help anyone know if a product is trending up or down to help them think about stocking. Below is a Trend search on Crocs. Google Trends for Crocs The highlight for me was how a culture of data/evidence supports their management. I'd seen Marissa talk about this in a video (below, section starts at 16:28) as "Data is Apolitical." Evidence-based management (here and here) at a company that builds the tools that let us all organize our evidence. httpv:// From the video:
I think that the internal politics inside of Google have remained minimal compared to other corporations of its size because we rely so much on the data and we do so much measurement that you don't have to worry, will your idea get picked because you're the favorite, or will someone else's idea get picked because they're the favorite or because they have a better relationship with the person who's the decision maker. The decisions get made based on data, and that really frees people from a lot of those types of concerns.
How can we use big data to make better management decisions? In earlier posts (here and here) I've listed a few tools and asked similar questions. Marissa described the power of other Google Tools to help us "understand problems in new ways":
  • Trendalyzer - animations of trends over time
  • Fusion Tables - largely for researchers - mashups and embedding of datasets.
  • Google Squared - googling your Google search results (thus squared) or the square that results. Not perfect - but it is editable (e.g., you can add your own columns).
  • And of course their (and everyone else's) move to manage the real-time web.
What problems can we understand in new ways? How can the exploding amount of data (for example from the US Government) help us manage better? Some starters: Facilities planning, recruiting, flexible work based on better predictions of business cycles, data mining of employees' social media content...