Who’s Really Running Google?

Interesting column on Forbes about who is really in charge at Google.

“Peek inside the Googleplex, and what you’ll see looks more like swarm behavior than a military drill. In many families, everyone has to pitch in and do some grungy work to keep the household running. But at Google, every engineer acts like the favorite child. From a Google employment Web site: “Because great ideas need resources to grow into reality, at Google you’ll always get the resources you need to make your dreams a reality.” (As my 9-year-old son would say, “Swe-eet!”)

According to Peter Norvig, who directs Google research, “We rely on the Lake Wobegon Strategy, which says, ‘Only hire candidates who are above the mean of your current employees.’ ” Managing people who are told from the minute they pick up their ID card that they’re probably smarter than their boss is like supervising the wind. Ever think your boss was wrong? Well, if you’re smarter than he is, then clearly you must be right. The logical conclusion: Just ignore him.Once inside the Google tent, engineers are free to spend 20% of their time on projects that they’re passionate about. But hey–no one’s standing around with a time sheet.”

I was familiar with the 20% spent on projects rule. I like it, I think that it is smart way to go. The columnist goes on to say:

“Schmidt has been through this before, with mixed results. He spent his formative years at Xerox‘s (nyse: XRX news people ) Xerox Parc, that incubator of brilliant ideas that sadly made only marginal dents in the corporation’s bottom line. And at Sun (nasdaq: SUNW news people ), Schmidt helped promote Java, which turned out to be quite handy for much of the tech world but did little more for the company than provide a cool advertising campaign. By the time Schmidt reached Novell (nasdaq: NOVL news people ), that company was in dire need of forceful leadership. But oddly enough, all the leadership in the world rarely produces innovation–just better execution of what you already know how to do.

What those experiences have shown, time and again, is that innovation comes from contrarians, from the folks who pick a different path, who could care less about the rules, who aren’t good soldiers.”

In concept I agree that the innovators often come from contrarians, from people who don’t color inside the lines and don’t follow the rules. It appeals to me because I identify with them. But the trick is trying to marshal these forces so that they follow a general outline, so that there is a common goal.

In some respects this comes back to the question of the wisdom of crowds. Do the masses really know more? Does assembling a dream team make the difference, or are you better off following a more traditional platform.

IMO it comes down to a question of balance. You need contrarians and worker bees. They need and complement each other.

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