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Big Ideas

Google X’s Sebastian Thrun on How To Invent Amazing Products & Change the World

Google X mastermind and ALVA Award-winner Sebastian Thrun shares insights on how to build groundbreaking products that will change the world.

“Build it. Break it. Improve it.” That was the Universal Law of Invention as defined by this year’s incredible ALVA Award winner, Sebastian Thrun. From the Google Self Driving Car to Google Glass to the education start-up Udacity, Thrun has led remarkable teams in the creation of products that will truly change the way the world works in the future.

Great inventors – and great inventions – solve problems, address real needs, and make the world work better. To recognize the next generation of world-changing creators, we created the ALVA Award in partnership with GE, which takes its name from the legendary inventor who inspired us: Thomas Alva Edison.

This year, we were honored to award the ALVA to Sebastian Thrun, who joined us live at the 99U Conference for an incredible presentation outlining his approach to making ideas happen. Along the way, Sebastian talked about the importance of setting wildly ambitious goals, embracing failure as an opportunity to learn, iterating as fast as you can, and giving your team members the autonomy they need to invent.

Watch Sebastian’s 99U Talk:

Photos from Sebastian’s Presentation:

thrun_3 thrun_4 thrun_1 thrun_2 alva

All Photos: MACKME.COM

Learn more about the ALVA Award, and our past winners, at

More Posts by Jocelyn K. Glei

A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with how to make great creative work in the Age of Distraction. Her latest book is Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction, and Get Real Work Done. Her previous works include the 99U’s own bestselling book series: Manage Your Day-to-Day, Maximize Your Potential, and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.

Comments (11)
  • Anri Orlow

    “Amazing products”. What? You mean Google Ass? This miserable ridiculous and useless piece of wire radiographing your head all the day through? Yes, great achievement!

  • Lorenzo Rojas

    Wow, I love his analogy with the mountain. Insane talk. Thanks for share

  • Thomas.ideation

    Focus on the subject, not the product.

  • Ger Seyben

    Didn’t they (Sebastian, Surgey, etc…) read the novel ‘Virtual light’ by William Gibson back in 1994? It subscribed google glass in all it’s detail, even more advanced then what they present nowadays. People should read more science fiction….

  • Cody

    I can’t wait to Ridicule the freaks and geeks that sport the new Google Glasses.

  • Stephanie Grenadier

    When everyone is wearing a version of these in the future, your comments will exist…We already have gadgets in our ears, our cars, our classroom, our hands: it is all going somewhere. I’m sure the implants will supplant these but give it time 😀

  • Stephanie Grenadier

    Actually, it most likely will be yet another way to advertise directly into our heads so no…not good. But down the line after all the hoopla, maybe science and medicine will find a way to redeem the technology. Not optimistic though. And it will be even more ridiculous to watch couples responding to their Googles rather than each other. I’ll re-invent eye contact then and make a fortune as a guru.

  • Hayucco

    it’s a great thing that you come up with an award for inventors. But why did it have to be named after the greatest impostor Edison? he was a great business man but the truly inventors of electricity and many other devices were lost in history, and Tesla, one of the most greatest and to whom we owe our alternate current, was placed second, just because he could not sell his inventions as well as Edison. Please rethink the name, and also watch this clever hillarious info graphic, made by oatmeal about Nikola Tesla.

    • M. Rizki Aditya

      yeah, i agree that edison is the great ceo or entrepreneur in the world, not as an inventor. oke , how about steve jobs with his apple?

  • Dino

    Am I the only one that thinks the title is ridiculous: How To Invent Amazing Products & Change the World? Yes, innovation — fantastic! But this award tastes very self congratulatory and elitist, and only shows how disconnected you can become when you smoke the mulah of your own success.

  • Alex Santiago

    All this negativity is exactly what makes people like him successful. Everyone talks shit, but no one progresses. That’s why they have all the money aka Edison and the rest of the greats throughout history. Everything has a price, but pain and passion is fuel.

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