How Google Works

How Google Works

Posted by jack_miller | Published 6 months ago

With 809 ratings

By: Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, et al.

Purchased At: $18.99

Google Executive Chairman and ex-CEO Eric Schmidt and former SVP of Products Jonathan Rosenberg came to Google over a decade ago as proven technology executives. At the time, the company was already well-known for doing things differently, reflecting the visionary - and frequently contrarian - principles of founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. If Eric and Jonathan were going to succeed, they realized they would have to relearn everything they thought they knew about management and business.

Today, Google is a global icon that regularly pushes the boundaries of innovation in a variety of fields. How Google Works is an entertaining, pause-resistant primer containing lessons that Eric and Jonathan learned as they helped build the company. The authors explain how technology has shifted the balance of power from companies to consumers, and that the only way to succeed in this ever-changing landscape is to create superior products and attract a new breed of multifaceted employees whom Eric and Jonathan dub "smart creatives". Covering topics including corporate culture, strategy, talent, decision-making, communication, innovation, and dealing with disruption, the authors illustrate management maxims ("Consensus requires dissension", "Exile knaves but fight for divas", "Think 10X, not 10%") with numerous insider anecdotes from Google's history, many of which are shared here for the first time.

In an era when everything is speeding up, the best way for businesses to succeed is to attract smart-creative people and give them an environment where they can thrive at scale. How Google Works explains how to do just that.

Eric and Jonathan cover a vast territory in their engaging discussion of Google's leadership in our software driven era. While their Google specific comments are singularly informed and compelling, I suspect their most valuable lessons are those applicable to virtually any venture. Many of these are recurring thematics within discussions of modern leadership, but rarely have so many useful concepts been so well and accessibly summarized as in "How." Despite 30 plus years in the business I furiously jotted margin notes throughout the book, reminding myself for instance, of the primacy of purpose, as illustrated by the story of a company, beginning with why it is important that it exists; the defining competitive separation afforded by traction and momentum or, get big fast; speed kills; iteration informs. This is a great read; informative, smart and wise, as reflected by their admiration of John Wooden and his aphorism "it's what you learn after you know it all that counts." For those interested I'll summarize below my 'Top 10' of the books many quality, illustrative elements. There are abundant actionable insights in this book and of course, the occasional tendril of presumption. Overall, my sentiment about the book is summarized by my ordering copies for my sons, nieces and nephews, regardless of the sectors they work within, or majors they are pursuing.

My 'Top 10' of appreciated observations:

1. Crowded work spaces fuel contagious energy and spontaneity; the physical presence of team members matters.
2. Keep management lean, with numerous direct reports per manager to assure leadership is crisp and micro-management rare.
3. Ignorance is not bliss, knowledge is instructive; share virtually everything about the company's business with all employees.
4. Smaller teams for building products; larger to sustain and grow.
5. Deliver transformative products, driven as much or more by insight as evident market demand. PS: platforms with leverage win.
6. Leaders don't delegate hiring; hire smart, curious learners and pay handsomely for impact.
7. Be mindful of your career objectives; sketch the larger ambition, then plan its execution, while remaining smartly opportunistic.
8. Spend 80% of your time on the stuff that generates 80% of your revenues; the new is seductive, but keep your focus balanced.
9. There are only a few truly important messages; assure they are heard: to quote Eric: "repetition doesn't spoil the prayer."
10. It's what you do that counts.

- rene_carter

Google, a company founded in 1998 by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, is worth $50-billion, has over forty-five thousand employees, and operates in over forty countries. “How Google Works” is the account of how this company grew into such a large and valuable organization.
Author Eric Schmidt, who has a PhD in computer science, joined Google as its CEO. His experience at Sun Microsystems, Bell Labs and Novell, (where he had been the CEO,) was widely believed to be a way of bringing “adult supervision” to a chaotic place. The founders, however, hired Schmidt as much for his technological achievements as a Unix expert and a co-creator of Java, as for his business acumen.
Co-author Jonathan Rosenberg, came from [email protected] and Apple where he was a product advocate and innovator.
As I have pointed out in this column before, great companies do not become great because they have good ideas, but because of the quality management that is designed into the business.
Brin and Page started Google with the belief that the Internet was “the technology platform of the future and that search was one of its most useful applications.” From the outset they believed that if they could offer superb products, the money would follow. They also genuinely believed that “their employees are everything”, and structured their company on that premise.
The authors, too, understood that “the best way to achieve… excellence was not via a prescribed business plan, but rather by hiring the very best engineers we could and then getting out of the way.”
With this approach, Google has been able to build excellent platforms and products that offer higher-quality services. Additionally, Google has made these services easily accessible and attractive to their customers. As a result, these services attracted advertisers who have provided the revenue stream for the company.
With the ease of access to knowledge via the internet and the lower costs of producing products and services, competitive advantage has been compromised. Neither information nor distribution can be controlled - only consistently producing excellent products can ensure business success.
To achieve this product excellence rapidly and consistently, the company could not be run using the stifling organizational structures of the past. “The only way to (achieve this product excellence rapidly and consistently), is to attract smart creatives and create an environment where they can succeed at scale.”
The company is designed to attract “smart creatives” who are encouraged to manifest their best ideas. “Smart creatives” are those who possess deep technical knowledge and can see the route from technical expertise, to product excellence, to business success. These employees would be extremely difficult to manage because they cannot be told how to think. “If you can’t tell someone how to think, then you have to learn to manage the environment where they think.”
The managerial challenge is to create a place where smart creatives want to come every day, and so build a great company. Put in different terms – it entails creating a culture that will attract, retain and stimulate smart creatives. Culture, the authors explain, comes from the founders, “but it is best reflected in the trusted team the founders form to launch their venture.”
The following incident describes the value of culture succinctly. Larry Page was dissatisfied with the adverts that come up when a search is made. He placed a memo on a notice board on a Friday afternoon describing his dissatisfaction.
The authors report that “Jeff and team weren’t even on the ads team. They had just been in the office that Friday afternoon, seen Larry’s note, and understood that when your mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, then having ads (which are information) that suck (which isn’t useful) is a problem. So they decided to fix it. Over the weekend.”
It wasn’t the culture that turned the five engineers into problem-solvers whose solution changed the course of the company. It wasn’t the culture that turned the five engineers into employees who achieved this over a weekend, uninstructed. Rather, it was the culture that had attracted people with that initiative, enthusiasm and commitment to Google. That is the power of culture.
Hippopotamuses are among the deadliest animals, unexpectedly fast moving, and capable of killing any enemy in their path. In Google, “hippos” refer to a different, but no less dangerous phenomenon – the “Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion.” As a meritocracy, at Google it is the quality of the idea that matters, not who suggests it. “Hippos” who cannot argue for their ideas are more likely to intimidate their way to success.
Sridhar Ramaswamy, one of Google’s ads leaders, tells of a clash of opinion he had with Sergey Brin. Brin initially suggested that as a compromise they try both ideas. After much debate about the relative merits of the competing ideas, Sergey’s idea was discarded despite being the HIPPO in the room by a wide margin.
To establish a meritocracy, a culture is needed that obliges people to dissent, not merely allows them to dissent. Some people feel uncomfortable about raising dissenting views in a public forum, and that is why dissent must be an obligation, not an option.
The book covers not only organizational culture, but how to create a “functional strategy”, hire the right people, arriving at accepted decisions, effect real communication, and, of course, innovation.
The value of this book does not lie in its description of a mighty company, but rather in the many thought-provoking ideas that are behind Google’s success. Little of this book will have direct application to your business, unless you are a tech giant in Silicon Valley. It will, however, stimulate you into thinking about how your organization is managed, and how you can get even more output from your people, and they can get more input from your organization.

Readability Light -+--- Serious
Insights High +---- Low
Practical High -+--- Low

*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Strategy that Works.

- rivka_hernandez

I found this book a struggle to read. It starts off badly with a boring introduction. It then goes on to describe the Google culture such as packing the software engineers closely together to help them communicate. I know from years of experience that most employees hate being packed together in an open plan office, as they get disturbed by all the colleagues talking. Managers, on the other hand love open plan offices - they are cheap and the they think that all the noise means the employees are being creative. The book has some insights. I liked the one about asking "what would I learn about you from looking at your internet browsing history?". That's a good one to ask interviewees. Lots of obvious stuff such as "hire smart people" - well, duh.... I would never have thought of that. I never really got the impression that Schmidt and Rosenberg really wrote this book. Maybe they just gave notes to a ghost writer and put their name on the cover to improve sales. There is a third author, a Google employee called Alan Eagle - maybe he did a lot of the writing. Anyway, you won't learn any secrets from reading this book. I was skimming the pages fast towards the end.

- charley_gonzales

My first comment would be to obviously be aware that this is written by Google insiders. Like others, I'm very impressed by what Google has done as a business and as a technology firm. However, it's not as perfect as it seems in this book. And as the latest EU ruling shows, its 'Don't Be Evil' mantra masks some real conflicts and challenges. None of these are really covered on this book. While it contains a lot of useful and interesting guidance and insight into Google, it's also a bit of a sales pitch for how great Google is - without covering any of the conflicts or real issues the firm has.

Oh, and the very weak American humour becomes quite grating after a while - for me at least!

For me, 'In the Plex' by Stephen Levy and 'Work Rules' by Laszlo Bock are better reads with better insight. Although its a bit more dated now, I'd particularly recommend 'In the Plex'

- luca_robinson

I found this book both inspiring and irritating in roughly equal measure - hence the 3 star rating. Inspiring: because of the ideas and approach to cultivating talent in Google. Sound commonsense and clever thinking in equal measure. Irritating: because of the overtly (to my sensibilities) sycophatic style. Yes, we all know Google has been an amazingly successful company. Some of the reasons (and you can choose to emulate them if you wish) are identified inside - but honestly - the author referring to himself as "Captain Eric"? Pass the sick bag please.
If you're curious about what it is (or was) like inside Google, worth a read.

- royal_sanders

An excellent read. It's not step by step guide on how to emulate their success, nor does it pretend to be. What it is, is a good overview of their company culture with lots of thinking points for those who want to attract driven employees and those who want to be known as driven employees

- jaxxon_rivera

I've always wondered how Google managed to succeed. This book tells you all from the early days to a mature conglomerate. It was fascinating to read how Google had to work in stealth in fear from Micorosft and the initial struggle it encountered scaling up this behemoth to maintaining its startup culture to ensure the company remains at the forefront of the internet world.

- aldo_gomez

Great read on how Google operates and why it is the success it is today.
If you are thinking about creating a start-up, this book is a must if you want to recruit employees that will be instrumental in steering your business to the next level.

- zane_johnson

Really enjoyed this insight into how Google, one of the world's most profitable and people-centric customers operates. Before reading the book I was sceptical if any of the learnings and experiences of such a unique company could be applied to others, but I found it a great source of ideas an inspiration in my own experience building products for a UK FTSE 250 company. While I'm sure that Google isn't as wonderful as the book makes out (as tales from my friends who work their attests), it is a good read nonetheless for anyone interested in Product Management / Product Development / general Corporate Strategy.

- teagan_howard

Even though there are good insights in the book, generally speaking explanations stay at the surface. Banalities such as "hire smart people" are all over this book. The 213 footnotes (in 260 pages!) give a very unpleasant reading experience; you always have to jump to the end of the page and then go back to the main text. Surprising given the fact that one of the key messages of the book is "focus on the user".

- andres_jackson

Found this very informative and great insight into how Google is run and certainly will make anyone in management relook at how they do and run things.

- alondra_rogers

I discovered a google company I like and respect. Great insights and useful Intel about career and people management. Recommended

- judith_rivera

I'd like to heap my highest level of praise upon How Google Works, which is that I forgot it was a business book when I was reading it!
It's a really cracking story outlining some of the deeper principles and practices that make Google one of the most sought after employers today while finding time to delve into the fascinating area of how the future may unfold and how we can prepare for it. Well worth a read.

- ridge_wright

A brilliant insight into people management, recruiting and decion making. Empowering intelligent people and giving them an environment to test drive ideas is quite well demonstrated with examples in the book. Good read.

- valentina_sanders

It's a bit saccharine. I think the Lawyers went through it before it was printed.
It could have been better.

- kolton_mitchell

Fantastic read. Here is how to beat Google (the company that beat all the corporate monsters out of existence). Here is a tutorial for the next generation to figure out what it may take to beat Google :)

- vera_cox

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