While at times it reads as a piece of Google propaganda, this book offers insight into the management techniques that Larry, Sergey and Eric employed to grow the Company to massive scale. Its hard to read this book and expect that all of these practices were actually implemented – it reads like a “How to build a utopia work culture” - but some of the principles are interesting, and more importantly it gives us insight into what Google values in their products and operations.
Smart Creatives. Perhaps the most important emphasis in the book is placed on the recruiting and hiring of what Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg have termed: Smart Creatives – “people who combine technical & business knowledge, creativity and always-learning attitude.” While these seem like the desired platitudes of every silicon valley employee, it gives a window into what Google finds important in its employees. For example, unlike Amazon, which has both business product managers and technical product managers, Google prefers its PMs to be both business focused and highly technical. Smart Creatives are mentioned hundreds of times in the book and continually underpin the success of new product launches. The book almost harps on it too much, to the point where it feels like Eric Schmidt was trying to convince all Googlers that they were truly unique.
Meetings, Q&A, Data and Information Management. Google is one of the many Silicon Valley companies that hosts company wide all-hands Q&A sessions on Friday where anyone can ask a question of Google’s leadership. Information transparency is critically important to Google, and they try to allow data to be accessible throughout the organization at all times. This trickles into other aspects of Google’s management philosophy including meetings and information management. At Google, meetings have a single owner, and while laptops largely remain closed, it’s the owner’s job to present the relevant data and derive the correct insights for the team. To that end, Google makes its information transparently available for all to access – this process is designed to avoid information asymmetry at management levels. One key issue faced by poor management teams is only receiving the best information at the top – this is countered by Amazon through incredibly blunt and aggressive communication; Google, on the other hand, maintains its intense focus on data and results to direct product strategy, so much so that it even studies its own teams productivity using internal data. Google’s laser focus on data makes sense given its main advertising products harvest the world’s internet user data for their benefit, so understanding how to leverage data is always a priority at Google.
80/20 Time. As part of Google’s product innovation strategy, employees can spend 20% of their work time on creative projects separate from their current role. While the idea sounds like an awesome to keep employees interested and motivated, in practice, its much more structured. Ideas have to be approved by managers and they are only allowed if they can directly impact Google’s business. Some great innovations were spawned out of this policy including Gmail and Google Maps but Google employees have joked that it should be called “120%” time rather than 80%.
Google’s Cloud Strategy. “You should spend 80% of your time on 80% of your revenue.” This quote speaks volumes when it comes to Google’s business strategy. Google clearly is the leader in Search and search advertising. Not only is it the default search engine preferred by most users, it also owns the browser market that directs searches to Google, and the most used operating system. It has certainly created a dominant position in the market and even done illegal things to maintain that advantage. Google also maintains and mines your data, and as Stratechery has pointed out, they are not hiding it anywhere. But what happens when the next wave of computing comes, and you are so focused on your core business that you end up light years behind competition from Amazon (Web Services) and Microsoft (Azure)? That’s where Google finds itself today, and recent outages and issues haven’t helped. So what is Google’s “Cloud Strategy?” The answer is lower priced, open source alternatives. Google famously developed and open sourced, Kubernetes, the container orchestration platform, which has become an increasingly important technology as developers opt for light weight alternatives to traditional virtual machines. They have followed this open sourcing with a, “We are going to open source everything” mentality that is also being employed, a bit more defensively at Microsoft. Google seeks to be an open source layer, either through Kubernetes (which runs in Azure and AWS) or through other open source platforms (Anthos) and just touch some of your company’s low churn cloud spend. Their issue is scale and support. With their knowledge of data centers and parallel computing, cloud capabilities seemed like an obvious place where Google could win, but they fumbled on building a great product because they were so focused on protecting their core business. They are in a catch up position and new CEO of Google Cloud, Thomas Kurian (formerly at Oracle), isn’t afraid to make acquisitions to build out missing product capabilities, which is why it bought Looker earlier this year. It makes sense why a company as focused as Google is on data, would want a cloud focused data analysis tool. Now they are betting on M&A and a highly open-sourced multi-public cloud future as the only way they can win.
“Objective” Key Results. As mentioned previously, the way Google combats potential information asymmetries by empowering individuals throughout the organization with data. This extends to famous venture capitalist (who invested in both Google and Amazon) John Doerr’s favorite data to examine – OKRs – Objective key results. Each Googler has a specific set of OKRs that they are responsible for maintaining on a quarterly basis. Every person’s OKRs are readily available for anyone to see throughout the Company i.e. full transparency. OKRs are public, measurable, and ambitious. This keeps engineers focused and accountable, as long as the OKRs are set correctly and actually measure outcomes. These fit so perfectly with Google’s focus on mining and monitoring data at all times: their products and their employees need to be data driven at all times.