How Google Works

"The plan for creating that great search engine, and all the other great services, was equally simple: Hire as many talented software engineers as possible and give them freedom."

- How Google Works, page 5

Google has created a culture that’s the envy of a lot of the business world. How Google Works is a peek behind the curtain. Former CEO Eric Schmidt and SVP of Product Jonathan Rosenberg spill the beans on everything from office setup, to hiring, to leadership.

I can honestly say this is the most I’ve ever highlighted a book. There’s such a high density of ideas that it’s difficult to summarize, but I’ll do my best…

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Smart creatives

"Not every smart creative has all of these characteristics, in fact very few of them do. But they all must possess business savvy, technical knowledge, creative energy, and a hands-on approach to getting things done. Those are the fundamentals."
- How Google Works, page 19

Smart Creatives are the lifeblood of Google. They are the employees Google seeks to hire — independent thinkers who are both experts in their technical field, but also have the other attributes necessary to thrive in their environment.

The authors attribute Google’s success partially to the company’s vision, but mostly to their focus on hiring smart creatives, and their willingness to give these employees complete freedom.

Why is this so important? As the authors write, “The basis for success, and for continual product excellence, is speed.” By employing people whom you trust to make decisions independently, you can avoid a lot of the bureaucracy that slows down many companies.

Surprisingly, the model for this is not corporate America, but academia, where graduate students are given direction and guidance from their supervisors, but also have the freedom to explore whatever topics they think are useful. This is why Google’s main office is known as a campus.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Hire the best

"The objective is to create a hiring culture that resists the siren song of compromise, a song that only gets louder amidst the chaotic whirlwind of hypergrowth."
- How Google Works, page 100

Google, as a company, has an obsessive focus on hiring the right people. They’ve realized that a team of great people not only does great work, it attracts more great people! This “herd effect” is even more pronounced early in a company, when early hires will impact who chooses to join the team in the future. As attraction, selection, and attrition play out over time, an organization becomes increasingly homogenous in its culture, so make sure to choose wisely.

How to choose wisely? Google uses four criteria in evaluating new hires: general cognitive ability, role-related knowledge, leadership experience, and Googleyness (a unique blend of ambition, team orientation, bias to action, creativity, and integrity).

More important than the specific criteria is the willingness to put the time and effort required into hiring. They would rather their hiring process generate more false negatives than false positives — meaning they are willing be patient and cut ruthlessly when people aren’t a perfect fit.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Radical transparency

"[Everyone is] obligated to dissent if they believe something is incorrect or not in the best interests of the client. Everyone’s opinion counts. While you might be hesitant to disagree with the team’s most senior member or the client, you’re expected to share your point of view."
- How Google Works, page 41

In order to create a culture where everyone achieves without having to be babysat, Google has made a strong effort to foster a spirit of radical transparency in the organization. Everyone is on the same page in terms of what the company stands for and what they’re trying to accomplish, and nobody is above the rules.

First and foremost, Google employees are required to be very public with their priorities and what they’re working on. Everyone from the lowest employee up to the CEO releases OKRs and snippets. OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are public, quantifiable goals that are published quarterly. Snippets are quick daily or weekly updates of important activities and achievements. Through these two systems any Google employee can get a pretty good feel for any other employee’s work situation.

To complement this freedom of information, Google employees are encouraged to give negative feedback. They do detailed, formalized post-mortems after most tasks and hold company-wide TGIF meetings each Friday, where any topic is fair game and employees often critique those above them.

This book is an incredible opportunity to learn from two of the best in the world at what they do. If you’re a startup founder, or anyone managing other people, looking to design systems to allow your employees to succeed without you peeking over their shoulders, this book will completely change the way you work. I can’t recommend it enough.

Since we’re all still constantly improving and learning, I want to turn it over to you guys: What practices have you learned to empower and motivate your employees?

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Zach Obront

ABOUT Zach Obront

Zach Obront is the co-founder of Book in a Box, a publishing company focused on breaking down the barrier between ideas and books. He's worked directly with hundreds of authors to publish and promote their books, reaching hundreds of thousands of readers in the process...
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