Google in School (it’s not what you think)

In Reverse Engineering Google’s Innovation Machine, Bala Iyer and Thomas Davenport discuss all the pieces that go into creating the Google Culture.

Every piece of the business plays a part, every part is indispensable, every failure breeds success, and every success demands improvement.

What I love about that introductory quote is “every failure breeds success“. We are typically taught in school that failure is a bad thing. It is bad to fail a test, bad to try something and have it not work out. The message of failure as being a bad thing is often sent to students and teachers alike. Yet it is precisely the ability to take a risk and try something new, knowing it may lead to failure, that helps foster creativity, innovation, and learning.

Try It and See! is the response I most often give to my students when they ask if something will work. If I always answer that question, it is I who will get better at the process, which might be fine for me, but it doesn’t do much for my students’ learning. See what these folks have to say about failure, and you’ll see that it’s not just Google that gets it!

If a company actually embraced–rather than merely paid lip service to–the idea that its people are its most important asset, if would treat employees in much the way Google does.

I love going to school each day, so please do not misinterpret my use of the above quote. It’s just that Google has a rather unique approach to helping foster the growth of their employees. Granted, Google is in business to make money, and the more innovative their employees, the better it is for Google. However, recognizing that “people are its most important asset” is a good model for any institution that wants to help its members learn and grow. Hmm, isn’t that exactly why schools exist, to help its members learn and grow!

Iyer and Davenport describe a Google environment that “places a high value on the intellect and opinions of employees. Likewise, giving them budgeted time for innovation shows high regard for their creativity. Google also attempts to provide plenty of intellectual stimulation…” You may have heard of Google’s 20 percent time, where engineers are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their time pursuing their own interests. That 20 percent can be divvied up however it best works for the engineer, and often the ideas that stem from 20 percent endeavors wind up becoming Google products. Talk about a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship!

Imagine a school where faculty and students are encouraged to pursue their passions 20 percent of the time.

  • teachers and students might come up with ideas that improve the schooling process
  • students might increase their self-motivation because they can follow their interests (check out the EdVisions Schools for an example of how this is working at project based schools)
  • teachers and students might have opportunities to see one another from different perspectives

What might you add to this list? How might you spend your 20 percent time?


4 thoughts on “Google in School (it’s not what you think)

  1. synapsesensations Post author

    Thanks Chris! I was not familiar with the Sudbury School model but just checked out their page:

    Will spend time tomorrow morning reading more, but in my quick glance it looks interesting. The first school I ever taught at, St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn, NY, does not have grades, and that system worked quite well for students, faculty, parents and colleges.

    Cheers, Laurie

  2. Chris

    I have heard many good things about the Sudbury school model as well. I think any school that has enough flexibility to allow its students to find inspiration instead of motivation is a school that will meet with success.

  3. synapsesensations Post author

    Hi Christine,

    Thanks for your comment. Over the years I’ve been the adviser to independent study projects, in particular about six years ago for an 8th grader and last year for an 11th grader.

    In both instances the students had finely tuned ideas about what they wanted to do and they followed their passions. The focus and dedication that each student manifested in the PROCESS, which then resulted in outstanding projects, impressed me, and made me wish that schooling could provide similar opportunity for ALL STUDENTS. This isn’t to say it’s the way that all students learn best, but I suspect there are a large number who would be better served with such opportunity.

    So many schools are oriented towards a standard curriculum and the testing that accompanies that curriculum. This method of “schooling” is entrenched in many places. However, there are a number of schools that are project-based, experiential-based, and expeditionary-based See what you think of these schools:

    EdVision Schools

    Big Picture Schools

    High Tech High

    New Tech Network

    Casco Bay High School


  4. Chris

    Imagine the successes our students and teachers would meet if students and teachers alke were allowed time to follow their interests. This sounds like the model for a dream school.

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