In her first sit-down interview since becoming the president and CEO of Yahoo last year, Marissa Mayer--the youngest in the elite club of Fortune 500 CEOs at age 37--shared her thoughts this morning at the 2013 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland on cultivating corporate culture, the importance of design, and executing large-scale innovation.
Here are three major takeaways:
Concentrate on your company culture. It matters.
"I believe that strong companies all have really strong cultures--each has their own unique and individual flavor, and Yahoo is no exception," Mayer said. "For my first few weeks at [Yahoo], my focus was on people, because I fundamentally believe that technology companies live and die by talent. I wanted to make sure that Yahoo was the best place to work so because that would take care of the talent part."
Mayer said she knew that Yahoo already had a good workplace ethos, and immediately began work on amplifying it."Amplifying it is how you find the energy and the energy is what you can harness into the that innovation," she added. "You can take that energy around the culture and find fun ways to apply it that can be really impactful for end users."
She explained that talent movement in the technology sector isn't indicative of intra-industry competition; it's about shifts in innovative energy.
"People talk about talent wars, but they're not really about companies competing with one another," she said. "When you see the best people migrating from one company to the next, it means that the next wave is starting."
You should be thinking about design in a big way.
"I think about design a lot--I think that Apple is obviously the gold standard with their philosophy that design and technology become really powerful when they just fall away," Mayer said. "You want to whittle away the technology, such that all of the complications lie just underneath like an iceberg--just that thin little layer you interact with."
She added that things like Siri and Apple touch-screen gestures demonstrate how human interactions with technology should be just that: human. "The beauty is that they already use natural paradigms embedded in people's minds, things that are already innate to us."
She said that the Apple's design prowess has changed people's expectations for design.
"Before Apple, I don't really think that people paid attention to design and didn't really appreciate it that much," she explained. "When you see something that is really beautiful does really create a lot of respect for it. And when you notice that, you start to realize the role that design plays in your everyday life."
Innovation at scale requires precise allocation of resources.
"If you think about what the opposite of innovation is, people tend to say, 'well, it's the status quo, it's stagnancy,'" Mayer said. "But there's another school of thought that says the opposite of innovation is actually execution. If you have to be in heads-down execution mode, it's very hard to find the space to innovate--and hard to have the space for those new ideas and to pull things in."
She explained that, when it comes to big projects at Yahoo, there's always a conflict between allocating people to get design, details, and functionality just right and saving time and resources for teams to chase down those innovative, game-changing ideas.
"There really is this tension: do you want to be doing the same set of things two to three times better or do you want to be doing two to three times more things?" she said. "I think you can do both, but you need to save room to have small teams working on those far-flung ideas. You can innovate at scale, but you just have to be very principled about it."