Marissa Mayer’s Skills as an “Idea Connector”

Google VP Marissa Mayer exemplifies the key traits of an idea connector, a person who links up idea scouts who have limited internal company networks with R&D engineers and others. One mechanism she uses: she holds three weekly sessions where she is accessible to all Google employees who want to pitch a new idea.

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Marissa Mayer, a vice president at Google, exemplifies the “idea connector.”

Image courtesy of Flickr user marcusnelson.

Combing the outside world for potentially useful innovation ideas is necessary but it’s not sufficient. Managers in large companies have to figure out ways to ensure that the best new ideas actually reach the people able to exploit them.

The way many companies do this is by having someone in the position of “idea connector.” This is the person who links up the “idea scouts” — people with well-developed knowledge and social networks outside their company but limited networks within it — to the R&D engineers and others who can develop the suggestions.

Here’s how it works at Google, “a company that has excelled in turning nascent ideas into innovative products,” according to authors Eoin Whelan, Salvatore Parise, Jasper de Valk and Rick Aalbers, writing in “Creating Employee Networks That Deliver Open Innovation”:

Central to this success has been the role of Marissa Mayer, a company vice president, who exemplifies the key traits of an idea connector. The initial concept for orkut (Google’s social networking site) or for the company’s desktop search did not originate with her, but she played a central role in ensuring that those promising ideas, and many others that bubbled up to the surface, were fast-tracked for investment.

One useful mechanism has been Mayer’s tradition of holding three weekly sessions where she is accessible to all Google employees who want to pitch a new idea. She brainstorms with these scout-equivalents and presses them for more details on the proposed products’ functionality before deciding whether to champion the ideas to company leaders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Idea connectors, the authors write, “are the hub of the company’s social network, the go-to people of the organization. Much of their expertise lies in knowing who is doing what. When they are made aware of an opportunity for innovation, connectors not only know who in the company is best equipped to exploit that idea but also possess the social capital needed to rapidly deploy the network to meet that particular challenge.”

The take-away: Companies need formalized processes for people with ideas to get to people with the influence to move on them.

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Comments (8)
Reflecting on Great Tech Leaders and Their Communication Styles - ON24
[…] to persuade and motivate, she has contributed to reestablishing Yahoo as a viable tech player. She has a track record of connecting engineers with innovative thinkers, and this can result in products that are both […]
zainfr2012
This is really good, ideal situation which Marissa Mayer has developed. Her one step changes the shape of sharing of information. Nice article based on real examples of success.
Steven Weiss
I takctor in every department.  Managers connect 
   ideas from different disciplines, intersections 
   social media, etc.  The article presupposes that
   managers do not bounce ideas off other
   departments.  
   Steven Weiss
   e-mail:  questweiss@aol.com
   web-site: disregardpreviousinstructions.
Idea connectors | One Size Fits One
[...] From this article in the MIT Sloan Management Review    LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); [...]
Management Improvement Carnival #145 » Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog
[...] What Google VP Marissa Mayer Does as an “Idea Connector” – “holding three weekly sessions where she is accessible to all Google employees who want to pitch a new idea. She brainstorms with these scout-equivalents and presses them for more details on the proposed products’ functionality before deciding whether to champion the ideas to company leaders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.” [...]
What Google VP Marissa Mayer Does as an “Idea Connector” – Improvisations – MIT Sloan Management Review « Secularity
[...] What Google VP Marissa Mayer Does as an “Idea Connector” – Improvisations – MIT Sloan Ma.... Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]
Jasper de Valk
Thanks for sharing Meredith! Love to hear about more examples and/or feedback.

- Jasper de Valk
What Is An Idea Connector And Are You One? | TheGrindstone
[...] not far off in my somewhat immature imagery for this business position. According to the Fall 2011 MIT Sloan Management Review, the position of “idea connector” is a real thing and not someone who works in Willy [...]