In August, I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to attend Google’s BOLD Immersion Program, which gave students like myself a chance to engage in “a culture where great minds, cutting-edge technology, and smart business intersect to make a difference.” In other words, it was an incredible program where I learned about pursuing failure, thinking about the bigger picture, adapting to vague situations, overcoming self-doubt, and the driving forces of innovation. More importantly, I also learned the stories of some of the brightest people I’ve ever met.
Failure Is Awesome
In our keynote welcome, we learned first and foremost that if you’re not failing often, you’re not trying hard enough. Failure is awesome—you should place bets on yourself and take the long shots. Our speaker Jonathan told us “intelligence isn’t some fixed trait, it’s an action,” which has been echoing throughout my brain for the past 4 days as a huge reminder. A reminder to forget the notion I’ve had all my life that I’m not smart enough, and instead, to see myself as ever-changing.
The Head of Google X famously said,
“It’s often easier to make something 10 times better than it is to make it 10% better.”
Most companies set 10% goals—increase revenue by 10%, improve market share by 10%, boost user count by 10%, etc.—but Google is different.
10x thinking frees you from the barriers of conventional rationale that are prescribed by 10% thinking. It demands you to rethink your assumptions about what is even possible. Thinking 10x requires a shift in perspective and compels you to think bigger, think bolder—to have radical ideas that can be brought to reality with breakthrough technology.
But 10x thinking doesn’t mean you must engineer the next moonshot idea or be the next Elon Musk. Living 10x could be as simple as “[working] on something new that you think is really amazing.” Running with your ideas while being strategic and tactical is essentially what 10x is about.
If we heard about thinking 10x once every hour, we likely heard the phrase “navigating ambiguity” twice as much, whether we were talking about self-driving cars or the BOLD Internship.
Change isn’t easy, but it is the only real certainty in this world today, meaning that every passing day is increasingly ambiguous. As future leaders of the world, the Immersioners and I learned that navigating ambiguity is an absolute must. We need to be flexible, able to quickly change course based on different environments and situations, and understand that failure is okay. It’s not so much about what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.
Imposter Syndrome expresses itself as self-doubt amongst high achievers. “Imposters” are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and have a continual fear of being exposed as a fraud by their peers. For instance, at the beginning of this program, I felt like a fraud. I was in this amazing conference led by an amazing company, alongside 54 other students who I saw as more intelligent, more talented, more accomplished, more outgoing, and friendlier than I was.
It turns out that 70% of people have felt this way at some point in their life and Imposter Syndrome is especially felt by women, African Americans, and high achievers.
This phenomenon of feeling like an intellectual phony is so important to acknowledge that Google spent a whole 90 minutes talking about it. Because the tech industry is so communal and collaborative, the effects of imposter syndrome pose a threat to its survival. In the long-term, “imposters” are less likely to share knowledge, collaborate, contribute to open source, apply for jobs, and more.
Finding out that almost everybody around me felt the same way I was feeling was very eye-opening. It was after our discussions on the topic that I realized my peers—even those from Ivy League schools, or those interning at JP Morgan, Microsoft, Ernst & Young, Bloomberg, Accenture, and other great companies—were human too. I realized that I also belonged in a room next to all these people because I worked hard to get where I am today.
The Nine Principles of Innovation
Lastly, we found out the recipe to Google’s secret sauce and how they’ve become the world’s most valuable company. These are nine principles that a business of any size can adopt to embrace Google’s company culture known for cultivating innovation:
- Innovation Comes from Anywhere
- Focus on the User and All Else Will Follow
- Think 10x
- Bet on Technical Insights
- Launch and Iterate
- 20% Time
- Default Open
- Fail Well
- Have a Mission That Matters
Aside from the principles I’ve already touched upon, I found the fifth most enlightening: you should launch your products often and early—there is no instant perfection. As a perfectionist myself, I now realize the inefficiencies and roadblocks that come with waiting for something basically unattainable. There’s a lot of value in getting feedback from others—whether they are your peers, mentors, or users of your products—that ultimately help you and your product thrive.
BOLD Immersion was a truly transformative learning experience, and the overarching theme throughout the program in my eyes was the humanization of not only Google and its employees, but also of the 54 other Immersioners around me. I made some immensely great friends and connections––and it’s all thanks to Google.
I highly recommend that all my friends coming into their second year of college apply for next summer’s program. With that said, please feel free to reach out to me if you have any burning questions about the program and want to know what I did to get into it.
Huge thanks to Melanie, Natalie, Matt, Caroline, and all of the other Googlers that made Immersion so unreal.
Next Step: the 2018 BOLD Internship. I just completed my first interview for a product marketing intern role and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the second round!