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Douglas Merrill      

Co-Founder and CEO of ZestFinance.com; Google's Former Chief Information Officer

Douglas Merrill is the former Chief Information Officer at Google. Put another way: he championed innovation at one of the world's most innovative companies. In his passionate keynotes, Merrill draws on real world experience to help companies build their own thriving, strategic, and sustainable cultures of creativity.

Douglas Merrill brings to his keynotes a rich real-world perspective on innovation as strategy, as culture, while delivering an overview of how new technologies have changed the way we live and work. As the former CIO and VP of Engineering at Google, he oversaw a team of 1,500, as well as all aspects of technology, and several high profile projects, one of which, Google Checkout, is now a multi-billion dollar business. Informed, passionate and brilliantly counter-intuitive, Merrill now helps companies around the world learn how to build their own sustainable cultures of innovation. Merrill's latest project is ZestFinance.com, a Big Data fuelled underwriting and short-term loan service that provides customers with an affordable alternative to traditional payday loan companies.

Merrill has also served as COO of New Music at EMI Group, and as VP of Infrastructure and HR Strategy at Charles Schwab. In academia, he was an Information Scientist at the RAND Corporation. He holds a Ph.D. in cognitive science from Princeton and is the author of Getting Organized in the Google Era: How to Get Stuff Out of Your Head, Find It When You Need It, and Get It Done Right.

Speech Topics


Big Data Demystified: What's Important, What's Not, and What's Next

Everything you think you know about big data is probably false. Technology can mindlessly capture thousands of data points—anything you can think of—but without a good understanding of what’s important, and what’s simply noise, big data ends up as a barrier, and not a road map. Enter Douglas Merrill. He knows data. He has done research for the US government on large scale data analysis and visualization. He was the CIO at Google, the best big data shop in the world, and he’s Founder & CEO of ZestFinance, the industry-leading big data underwriting firm. This peerless experience positions Merrill as one of the leading voices in big data, and allows him to make hard concepts simple to understand. In a lively talk, free of jargon, he shows you how to approach big data and make it work. His straight-forward talk features real people, relevant examples, and very smart companies making well-informed decisions. Big data is about science and intuition, Merrill says, emphasizing the human element while simultaneously focusing on rigor and analysis. After a bold primer that outlines early victories, common mistakes, and new paths to growth and innovation, Merrill suggests a new approach to data-driven decisions: have people from radically different backgrounds on your data teams, add more “signals” (data you can draw conclusions from) to your analysis, and, most importantly, use your data to solve real world problems, instead of crunching numbers for numbers sake. Enthralling, important, and immediately applicable, Merrill's big talk on big data is perfect for any organization that wants to make smarter choices now.

Innovate or Die: Building a Culture of Strategy and Innovation

Douglas Merrill provides a rare look into how Google fosters its renowned culture of innovation. In a fast-paced talk, he contrasts Google's strengths with those of other companies that are struggling to stay relevant. The best companies know that innovation is a process you can learn and implement. Merrill lays out a blueprint for innovation as strategy, as culture. How do you foster ideas in their infancy? What corporate structures drive innovations, and which ones get in the way? And how do you recognize the innovation that's already happening in your organization? Innovation, he shows us, is already happening at your organization, at every organization. But the mediocre companies kill it unwittingly. Having championed innovation at Google, Merrill demonstrates, with striking clarity, how to design a different kind of company-- one where culture, strategy and innovation are interrelated and drive massive, sustainable growth.

The Innovators Opportunity: Building the Business of the Future

You're at a successful company. You make a great product, and people are buying it. Congratulations. But do you know where your next successful product comes from? Most companies don't. Some companies are counting on their current product growing indefinitely. In fact, the whole notion of focusing on your "core" and ignoring "context" assumes that your core will grow indefinitely. However, most companies face the Innovator's Dilemma: How do we build a new product in an already successful company? Innovation and product development in these companies requires structural change, new kinds of employees, incentive shifts, and management fortitude. But, if a company gets it right, it can capture the Innovator's Opportunity: Building a new product in the safety of a stable company. Building on research from RAND, consulting to the world's largest companies in the US and internationally, his experience at Google, and lessons from his own start-ups, Merrill describes proven methods for creating the Innovator's Opportunity.

Google vs. EMI: The Innovation Gap

Douglas Merrill went from the ecstasy of Google to the agony of EMI-- and, in this talk, he shares everything he learned about the two wildly different cultures, and what each says about innovation. When EMI Group's New Music Department wanted to take on Apple, it hired Merrill as its COO. Despite having great talent, deep pockets, and innovative ideas, EMI ultimately lost the digital music war. Why? Merrill explains that, though Google and EMI were equally innovative, it was Google who had a culture of experimentation and implementation--and that's the real difference. Innovation isn't a panacea; it's only one part of a more comprehensive process. In this ambitious and enthralling talk, Merrill articulates why culture and strategy are what transform innovative ideas into revolutionary products.

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