What Google Doodle Teaches Us About Innovation

Ever since 1998 , the Google Doodle has provided a perfect outlet for the company to show off its fun side.

From birthday celebrations to playable video games and original songs , these iconic images paint Google as more than just a typical conglomerate. Instead, they show the world that Google is comprised of a creative and diverse group of individuals who all bring different experiences, passions, and narratives to the table. What started as a small office joke has turned to a cultural phenomenon.

Google didn't just stumble upon this gem of creativity. They knew exactly what they were doing: Driving innovation through playful design.

The idea behind Google Doodle isn't rare. In fact, these ideas happen all the time at companies everywhere. Google is just one of the few companies that allows these bursts of creativity to become a reality, and this once quick and fun endeavor has now transformed into a full-time job.

Last month, Google announced an opening on its Doodle team, implying there’s currently a group of “professional doodlers” working for one of America’s most successful corporations. This might sound frivolous and whimsical, but it’s actually ingenious.

The Google Doodle is a metaphor for Google’s spirit. It’s an illustrative bellwether of the company’s inclusiveness, innovation, and individualism. The very fact that the Doodle exists — and that it’s a full-time pursuit — shows that Google values creative undertakings and social leadership more than its bottom line.

With top-down executive support, Google Doodle lays a brave groundwork for fun, playfulness, and a unique brand identity through design.

So why aren’t you hiring a “chief doodler” or a “director of magic”?

The Importance of Being Playful

Your company isn’t a fussy, fragile entity. It’s a profoundly resilient structure comprised of incredible humans who share a powerful vision. The greatest companies know how to transform this human resource into power, while the timid ones sit on the sidelines paralyzed by risk.

Look what happened to Kodak : The once proud film giant had a golden opportunity to pioneer the digital photography movement decades before anyone else, but it was too scared to do anything about it. One of its employees created the first digital camera, but Kodak ignored this innovation and waited for other companies to embrace the new technology. And now, the company is a shell of its former self.

Your organization can and should champion its fun and deeply unique ideas. They’re cheap to manifest, and I’m sure your teams are overflowing with them. One of the best ways to cultivate this innovative, creative culture is to encourage playfulness.

Organizational playfulness means more than adding some foosball tables to the break room and having Nerf guns on every desk. Rather, it means encouraging risky ideas and supporting design thinking from top to bottom.

The purpose of play is to create a better understanding of the world through experimentation, simulation, and exploration. Businesses pay millions of dollars to better understand the world while overlooking the vast resources they have within each employee.

Finding Your Doodle

Playfulness, innovation, and around-the-clock creativity may not be your top priority — and that’s totally fine. Not all companies need to doodle, but every company could certainly benefit from a mindset shift.

If your company relies on a rigid structure and seniority pyramid, you definitely need to reevaluate your priorities. The world is changing fast, and technology has eliminated the need for human robots. Today, we need creative thinkers and bold decision makers.

Hand the reins to your risk-takers and prolific makers. Their skills will take your firm in new directions at a faster pace. Give them the space to play, and consistently measure the success of their products.

Companies that operate in top-down paranoia have no room to deviate from the norm. They will never find an innovative path, they’ll struggle with product development, and they’ll ultimately be consumed by fast movers who aren’t afraid of change.

The Doodle isn’t something that’s directly making Google tons of money, but it represents something everyone needs to take to heart: creative innovation through playful experimentation.