Google Uses the ‘O2-Plus’ Method To Ignite Productivity and Fuel Growth Without Burnout

Illustration: Inc., Getty.

How to create a productive and happy workforce.

With burnout on the rise, and staffing becoming all the more challenging, employers are left tip-toeing around productivity out of fear that the weight of big expectations will cause staff to crumble under productivity paralysis. Yet, as businesses across the country reel back on goals in a well-meaning effort to dampen pressure, burnout continues to grow rampantly.

The problem? People are motivated by big ideas, grand visions and the pursuit of their attainment. According to Psychology Today, humans have a deeply-rooted yearning for more than the status quo, so why are employers asking for less?

By having less to do (and less to aspire to), employers are unknowingly fueling burnout-not productivity or workplace satisfaction. After all, burnout is more realistically the result of boredom (thus the term “bored-out“), and its ability to sap our energy and rob us of our happiness.

To ignite productivity and fuel sustainable growth without burning out staff, Google has a simple strategy: the “O2-Plus” method. This allows Google to address the problem of having goals that are too small.

How to Increase Productivity Like Google

Google is famous for its productivity hacks and strategies that have driven it to become a trillion-dollar company. Google notoriously employs wildly simple strategies that increase productivity and employee happiness. The “O2-Plus” method is another example of Google’s genius at work.

It is a strategy where, like building a fire or maintaining a wood stove, you seek the right combination of oxygen (O2) plus fuel.

With too much oxygen, the fire will burn big but rapidly burn itself out. Too little oxygen and the flame will smother out. But oxygen plus fuel in the right balance will create a sustainable flame that burns low and long. Meanwhile, many make the mistake of looking at just one input or the other, not both.

In the workforce, oxygen is the energy and goals are the fuel. Much like the ancient art of building a fire, the concept of increasing goals to proportionally increase energy (and with that, output) is time-tested.

Studies show that people are not only more creative when they reach for higher, bigger goals but also more motivated and productive. A 1997 study revealed that after Motorola implemented stretch goals in its management training, engineers were able to develop new products in a tenth of the time that it took previously.

Decades later, it still holds true, as Google can attest. And there are a few reasons why.

More sizable goals generate more productivity

The philosophy behind Google’s strategy to increase workplace productivity in the long term is a lot like the old adage from Norman Vincent Peale, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars.”

The pursuit of a goal isn’t as much about the attainment of it, as the effort that is put into reaching it. Bigger goals require more energy, and with such an evident requirement, bigger goals get more energy. And it’s true within both professional and personal lives.

For example, if someone decides they want to run one mile, they psychologically put in less of a concerted effort because the goal isn’t very grand (never mind exciting). Whereas, if the goal is to run a marathon, there’s an understanding that a tremendous amount of work will be required. With that, more effort and energy is put into it-whether or not the ultimate aim is achieved.

Bigger goals create a more exciting work environment

Aiming high is also effective for another reason. The bigger the goal, the more pride we have in our achievement of it–and the excitement that surrounds its pursuit. Because goals shrouded in grandiosity or unchartered territory are new and exciting, so is the pursuit of them. After all, everyone wants to be on the leading edge, and part of the team that redefines where that lies.

A larger goal gives us more to aspire to, and more satisfaction to achieve versus a small, highly achievable goal that yields little to no satisfaction. After all, there’s a reason why people don’t commonly boast about running one mile. But they do about running a marathon.

Failed goals successfully drive substantial advancements

Even if the goal goes unachieved, a more significant goal will often result in more substantial advancements than a realistic goal-a key driver in the evolution of technology and the relentless tech race.

Psychologically, we focus better and stay more motivated when we have larger tasks or goals at hand. The more monumental something is, the more exciting we tend to find it. In return, we effortlessly give it more energy.

In fact, according to research published by the American Psychological Association (APA), the best way to dampen performance anxiety-the very thing many warn stretch goals will induce-is not by trying to calm down, but by getting excited.

Google refers to this as “moonshots” and “roofshots,” where a moonshot is quite the stretch, whereas a roofshot is a safe bet. What Google has found is that more progress is made with moonshots compared to roofshots, as even if the moonshots are not achieved, they lend to deeper advancements and further progress towards “reaching the moon,” per se.

The higher the aim, the lower the pressure

Despite the common assumption that big goals are overwhelming and anxiety-provoking, they are oddly counterintuitive and have quite the opposite effect.

The benefit of a stretch goal–unlike a standard goal–is that it’s so big it’s not necessarily surprising (never mind disappointing) should it not be achieved. Whereas, if a goal is considered completely attainable and it goes unattained, then it is deemed a failure. So, a stretch goal can actually help reduce pressure and performance anxiety, which oftentimes proves detrimental to achieving goals and success in general.

In order to effectively increase productivity and growth, stretch goals need to be used the right way. What’s key, and what drove Google’s success, is making it known that goals are goals-as opposed to quotas or requirements. Goals are, in their truest form, something to work towards or aspire to, not necessarily an expectation.

Businesses that enable their teams to dream big and give their staff the reins to pursue ambitious goals, are those that see heightened productivity-and continued growth. After all, it’s not about lowering the bar to make a workload realistic. It’s about raising the bar to make seemingly unrealistic ideas work in reality.