How to be more innovative | Sam Schillace (Microsoft deputy CTO, creator of Google Docs)
- Sam Schillace is the corporate vice president and deputy chief technology officer at Microsoft.
- He is known for inventing Google Docs with his company Writely, which became the foundation for Google Workspace with over one billion active users monthly.
- Sam has a diverse career history, including founding startups, serving as senior vice president of engineering at Box, and working at Intuit and Macromedia.
- The conversation focuses on innovation, thinking big, career advice, and the importance of optimism.
The first Google Docs file
- Sam has the very first Google Doc document from 2005, created by his company Writely before it became Google Docs.
- The document has undergone multiple back-end and front-end migrations, raising questions about its authenticity.
- Sam had a humorous exchange with the Computer History Museum about curating the document.
- The successful migration of Google Docs to the Google infrastructure was achieved in a sneaky way without drawing much attention.
- Sam emphasizes the importance of disruptive innovation and its role in transforming everyday items and technologies.
- Disruptive innovations can be threatening initially and often face resistance, leading to 'why-not' questions.
- Sam advocates for asking 'what-if' questions to explore the potential of disruptive ideas and to avoid being overly pessimistic. He believes it is better to be optimistic and wrong than pessimistic and right.
- Steve Jobs quote: designs by people not necessarily smarter
- Every new idea looks dumb at first
- Disruptive ideas often feel dumb initially
- Key signifier: if people say it's a toy, it's potentially real and threatening
Recognizing disruptive ideas
- Binary reaction: understand & excited or reject
- Disruptive products elicit strong love or hate reactions
- Impactful products either loved or hated, not in between
- Bifurcation of love and hate indicates impact
Examples of first-principles thinking
- Exploring why-not stories around generative AI
- Challenging assumptions, asking "what if"
- Transformational mindset for disruptive innovations
- Examples: Tesla, SpaceX, and visionary questions
The power of optimism
- Optimism/growth mindset in the face of pessimism
- Choosing optimism despite natural tendencies
- Focusing on possibilities over problems
- Optimism facilitates trying new things more easily
Sam’s motto: Get to the edge of something and fuck around
- Experiment and try new things without dismissing ideas too quickly
- Sharpen tools to enable cheap experiments and observe the results
- Optimism and receptiveness lead to noticing surprising results
- Example with a project at Microsoft where a surprising discovery was made
User value and laziness
- The importance of identifying real user value in technology
- Being skeptical about the actual user value in technologies like crypto
- Users are lazy and prioritize making their lives easier
- Elon Musk's products articulate clear user value, which is crucial for success
People are lazy (and what to do about it)
- Product builders should focus on making users' lives better, as users are lazy
- Products that add significant value experience quicker adoption
- Users will only adopt if the energy expended is less than the resulting ease in their lives
- Simplicity and low friction are essential for user adoption
- Example with Writely focusing on minimal friction during onboarding
- Users need to see significant value in a short time to engage with a product
Building Google Docs
- Made a trade-off to focus on ease of use and zero installation over numerous features
- Deliberately removed most features, facing complaints in the early days
- Competed with Microsoft Office using the innovation model, chipping away at the market
The evolution of Google Docs
- Almost immediately felt the product was working after starting it
- Collaboration feature was discovered accidentally and led to motivation to build it out
- Collaboration feature was a challenge to solve due to the lack of existing techniques
- Excitement about the potential of collaboration motivated the team to solve the problem
- Faced opposition and negativity within Google during the early stages of building Google Docs
- Successful innovation requires a balance between being rigid about the mission and flexible about feedback
- Entrepreneurs need to find a balance and be open to feedback while staying focused on their mission
Finding product-market fit
- Google Docs team was surprised by the quick adoption of their product
- Experimented with advertising on Google and gained attention
- Positioned themselves as a different paradigm, attracting attention from VCs
- Experimented with functionality and collaboration
- Realized the importance of offline features but later abandoned them
The future of documents
- Envisioned a future where documents are interactive and conversational
- Predicted that linear, static documents will evolve into dynamic, interactive artifacts
- Believes that intention and interactivity in products will become essential
- Foresees a radical change in how documents are handled in the next few years
- Sponsored message from Ahrefs, a tool for search engine optimization
The value of playing with technology
- Working on technology before finding a specific problem it solves
- Playing with technology and understanding its potential applications
- Setting specific goals and north stars to guide experimentation and innovation
Taking risks and embracing failure
- Importance of taking risks and experimenting to find good product ideas
- The value of getting familiar with various tools and combinations of tools
- The need for a broad perspective and understanding of different technologies
Thinking in the future
- Building the skill of thinking about future possibilities and where things are heading
- The potential impact of the willingness to take risks and embrace failure on innovation and problem-solving
- Challenges in the current environment that affect the ability to experiment and fail gracefully
Finding joy in your work
- Failure is essential to achieving extraordinary results in your career.
- Linear effort leads to a slow, predictable career progression, while taking bigger risks can lead to extraordinary returns.
- It's important to pursue activities that bring joy and are easy for you, as this can lead to high impact and career success.
Just do the best you can
- The advice to do the best job in any role can lead to greater enjoyment and success.
- Bringing your unique strengths and intensity to your work can lead to high impact and personal fulfillment.
The transformational power of AI
- AI is not just a feature of a product, the product itself is a feature of AI
- Building apps and solutions that are dependent on AI will create transformative massive value
- AI is leading to a disruption in the software industry, making distribution of information free and pixels easier to produce
- The future of software will be more dynamic, intentional, semantic, fluid, and personalized as AI technology evolves
- Generative AI will lead to significant changes in software and businesses, with a new category shift imminent
Advice for approaching AI
- Play with it, but also pick a specific goal to achieve with the technology
- Choose goals that lead to interesting and meaningful outcomes
- It's hard to keep up with the rapid pace of technological advancements
- The zero to one phase is the most challenging, but once an idea is understood, the optimization process is quick
- Professionals need to read, think, play with technology, and choose their battles to learn effectively
The culture at Microsoft
- Satya Nadella is considered a great leader and motivator
- Microsoft has a humble culture that values hard work and unglamorous tasks
- The company has a large number of talented individuals and a positive attitude
- Luck also plays a role in its success
- The speaker's opinions represent personal views and not official Microsoft stands
- Encourages listeners to build and solve problems, highlighting the importance of energy and initiative in the process
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