How Google Works

16 Oct

Tonight I was invited to the Financial Times Live series to see Google’s Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg in conversation about their new book, How Google Works.

The pair opened with a story about Schopenhauer’s American Conjurer as retold by Steve Jobs to Eric Schmidt. The essence of this was ‘see a trick a few times and you’ll understand it,’ the trick then is to then share your knowledge for growth.

Jobs used this story to illustrate the tribal nature of knowledge sharing in Silicon Valley.

There was lots of talk about being brought in to manage / provide ‘adult supervision’ but nothing about leadership… You might say this is just words, but to me a manager and a leader are wildly different beasts; I think a manager ‘manages’ to get things done through a team but a leader creates followers who are inspired to do amazing things.

Google’s approach to recruitment

It’s all about recruiting ‘smart creatives’ – passionate, committed people with tech & business acumen. You can’t manage how Smart Creatives think, so manage their environment to nurture them.

Eric and Jonathan claim that statistically, each person should be interviewed five times for a role. They’ve done the research with SAP, apparently…

Knaves and Divas aren’t welcome at Google – egos and Wildcards can upset the culture and culture is what underpins the success of Google.

High potential people are not just a leadership focus for Google; there, people have high expectations of each other.

They claim that the ideal number of direct reports is 7. The rule of 7 means you can’t be a manager unless you manage at least 7 people at Google. They didn’t really go into this in detail but alluded to diversity in terms of opinions and skill sets, would have liked to hear more from them on this.

Some questions

What does an exec do at Google?

The role of an exec or senior leader at Google is to get people talking, especially the quietest voice in the room.

Define Googliness

Brilliance, quirkiness, passion. Google hires brilliant, highly intelligent generalists not specialists – because you don’t know what the future will hold. They interview for passion.

What is don’t be evil?

It’s a way of making reasonable and fair decisions internally. It’s an internal cultural lone star that guides everyone. People feel empowered to use it to stop evil things.

What is horseback law?

Don’t take legal’s first no for an answer. Don’t let lawyers get in the way. Don’t let the legal sherif get off the horse to inspect something. Get them involved early. Process trumping progress chokes big companies.

How does Google continue to grow?

Eric said that real growth comes from ecosystems and ecosystems come from creating platforms that drive value for everyone. Grow the industry which in turn grows your company.

How do you stay innovative?

Innovation is inherently disruptive. Keep disrupting.

How do you stay relevant?

Give yourself the 5 year challenge- where will we, the market, people, tech, culture, be in five years? If you can’t answer that; you can’t be a leader.

What came first, the UX or the UI?

Depends on the product, but it’s never about the money. It’s about making good stuff.

What advice would you give to new graduates?

Data scientists are the most in demand people at Google at the moment. Learn how to use matlab. Learn how to tell stories using data. Is Eric hinting about Google getting into medicine? His advice to grads is to focus on tech and data in medicine.

How can ‘old school’ organisations be more Google?

Start with a culture change and start now. Make your organisation flatter; reward people financially, not with meaningless titles. Get people in a room and identify issues and where a more open, collaborative, innovative culture could help move things forward. Then go out and make changes. Google did an organisational restructure in a day and they have 55,000 employees: it’s possible!

I would have liked to hear more about how Google approaches performance support, collaboration and development, but I’ll let them off until next time…

It was a really fun, relaxed, insightful evening, and it was good to see Google confirm that there’s no magic bullet: just be passionate, fail forward, create a culture of innovation and don’t let process stop progress.

Thanks again to Social Media Leadership Forum for having me and to my SMLF buddies for another round of thought-provoking chat, both online and IRL.


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