Insight from Google Canada Leader

Chris O’Neill speaks at a past VBOT event in downtown Vancouver.

Google Canada managing director Chris O’Neill discusses how to propel your business

Vancouver business leaders gathered on May 28, as Chris O’Neill, managing director of Google Canada, took the stage at The Vancouver Board of Trade’s afternoon event.

O’Neill spoke on how people, ideas and culture can “power an innovative nation.”

He kicked off his presentation by reminiscing about a childhood memory of riding on a train for the first time and falling in love with the West Coast. Having grown up in a small town in Ontario, with parents who owned a small Canadian Tire franchise, O’Neill learned about the world of business and the importance of innovation early on.

He vividly remembers the moment when his family’s business first received a microfiche, which was a significant innovation at the time because it allowed them to look up a product in about five minutes. “Five minutes to look up a product, you would go crazy in today’s world,” says O’Neill. “At Google, we measure our search results in milliseconds.”

Technology is constantly evolving and propelling businesses and consumers to keep up with its frenetic pace. O’Neill discussed how Google Canada offices work with businesses of all shapes and sizes to help make the web work for them. “Whether it’s helping them make better business decisions by incorporating customer insights or whether it’s to help them constantly innovate,” he says.

The Internet celebrated its 30th birthday this year and over the course of its lifetime it has changed immensely. O’Neill says it has gone from 30-million URLs to over 1-trillion URLs. “Every day, three times every second—we collectively produce the equivalent amount of data that exists in the entire library of congress,” he says.

Although the vast amounts of information available to us at our fingertips is changing the way we live by helping us stay connected, it also disconnects us, O’Neill says. He used a recent Rolling Stones concert as an example of how people are sometimes more interested in filming the world around them with their smartphones rather than paying attention to what’s happening right in front of them.  

He discussed the importance of letting go some of your control to find success running your business. “Collaboration, open innovation, clear, compelling and audacious goals. Giving people the freedom to fail—these are all about relaxing control in some way,” he says.

O’Neill adds that he strongly believes ideas can come from anywhere and business leaders should attain a child’s sense of curiousity. “At Google, there’s no department of innovation, it’s in our culture, it’s in our DNA.”

He says that although fear of failure is normal, it should not affect the decisions you make because you have to fail at least once if you’re going to be taken seriously. “Making big goals helps unleash creativity and will attract the best talent, inspire your team and help move you ahead of the pact,” he says.