How Google Works: A book review by Bob Morris

How Google WorksHow Google Works
Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, with Alan Eagle
Grand Central Publishing (2014)

How and why Google continues to attract and retain so many “smart creatives”

Before Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, with Alan Eagle, explain how Google works, Google co-founder and CEO, Larry Page, shares his thoughts about why it works in the unique ways that it does: “Over time I’ve learned, surprisingly, that it’s tremendously hard to get teams to be super ambitious. It turns out most people haven’t been educated in this kind of moonshot thinking. They tend to assume that things are impossible, rather than starting from real-world physics and figuring out what’s actually possible. It’s why we put so much energy into hiring independent thinkers at Google, and setting big goals. Because if you hire the right people and have big enough dreams, you’ll usually get there. And even if you fail, you’ll probably learn something important.”

Schmidt and Rosenberg devote an entire chapter, “Talent — Hiring Is the Most Important Thing You Do” (Pages 95-141). They believe that hiring is the most important area of what Google does and explain how and why. Of special interest to them are people they characterize as “creative smarts,” those who are a “firehose” of new ideas that are genuinely new. “She is always questioning, never satisfied with the status quo, seeing problems to solve everywhere and thinking that she is just the right person to solve them. She can be overbearing.”

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, listed also to suggest the scope of Schmidt and Rosenberg’s coverage:

o Keep them crowded, and, Work, eat, and live together (Pages 34-38)
o Organize the company around the people whose impact is highest (47-48)
o Don’t be evil (64-65)
o Bet on technical insights, not market research (69-74)
o Optimize for growth (78-81)
o Don’t follow competition (90-91)

NOTE: Long ago, I realized that an organization’s #1 competitor tomorrow is what it does and how it does it today.

o The herd effect (99-100)
o Hire learning animals (102-105)
o Expand the aperture (108-112)
o Interviewing is the most important skill (113-118)
o Decide with data (151-153)
o Make fewer decisions (158-160)
o Meet every day (160-161)
o Horseback law: quickly identify the main legal issues (165-167)
o It must be safe to tell the truth (180-182)
o Repetition doesn’t spoil the prayer (184-187)
o Innovation is something new that is “radically useful” (205-206)
o Think big/bigger (216-220)
o Ideas can come from anywhere and anyone (231-233)
o Ask the hardest questions (249-254)

Readers will appreciate the boxed mini-commentaries that provide supplementary information, insights, and counsel such as “Eric’s Notes for a Strategy Meeting” (Pages 92-93), “Google’s Hiring Dos and Don’ts” (132-133), “Career — Choose the F-16” (133-141), “The World’s Best Athletes and You Don’t?” (170-171), and “Jonathan’s Favorite 20 Percent Project” (230-231). It’s true: Google has become a huge, immensely complicated global organization with vast resources. However, it needs to be said that many (if not most) of Schmidt and Rosenberg’s insights will be of interest and value to leaders in almost any organization, whatever its size and nature may be.

The Google culture is one in which personal growth and professional growth are most likely to thrive but it must also be said that competition becomes more ferocious each day between and among the workforce as well as within each of its members who are driven to learn and understand more, then do what they do better and faster with fewer resources.

“We see the new breed, day in and day out, and marvel at their confidence and smarts. They tell us what’s up and what’s going to happen, and when it comes to deciding what to do next, they tell us as often as we tell them. Such is our fate, surrounded by up-and-coming smart creatives.” Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, with Alan Eagle, realize that for every “rock star” they encounter in their work each day, there are dozens (perhaps hundreds) of others now hard at work on preparations to knock Google from its perch. Out there, somewhere, there is a brave business leader who has gathered a small dedicated team of smart creatives. “Maybe she has a copy of our book, and is using our ideas to help her create a company that will eventually render Google irrelevant. Preposterous, right? Except that, given that no business wins forever, it is inevitable. Some would find this chilling. We find it inspiring.”

So will many of those who read this book.

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