Book Review: How Google Works

Book Review: How Google Works

During my time in the Air Force, I was indoctrinated in the General Creech model of Total Quality Management. I have used a number of those principles to this day, but one principle stood out more than the others… benchmark the leaders. As I look around much is in turmoil and much does not work to the level it should, yet, there is a company that continuously improves and takes advantage of their failures with improvement in other areas, and that company is Google. I have always been curious about what was behind the Google curtain. When I learned that Google Executive Chairman and ex-CEO Eric Schmidt and former Senior Vice President of Products Jonathan Rosenberg wrote How Google Works*, I knew I had to read it. I was not disappointed. If you are looking to shake up how your organization runs, there are countless lessons in this book. A number of them I plan to implement in my new job.

The book spans 286 pages and covers eight chapters. Each chapter is filled with stories and examples of how they run the company from the lowest level to the very top. Interestingly enough is that Google was created by two academics who preferred an academic approach over typical corporate management. They surrounded themselves with the brightest people they could find and got out of the way.

In addition to an introduction and conclusion, Schmidt and Rosenberg wrote about the culture, planning process, talent management, decision making, communications, and innovation. Based on what I have read previously on Google operations, this book seemed to be a very frank behind-the-scenes look.

There are many things that stood out about their operations. Here are some of the highlights:

Simplicity – They seemed to keep the structure as simple as possible thus reducing the number of decision points. They had a simple vision of what needed to be done and everyone worked towards that vision. Simplicity was also exhibited as they maintained a list of their projects and priorities on a basic spreadsheet. They also had simple values such as “focus on the user” and “do no evil.”

Speed – Google recognized the importance of iterative improvement. They rapidly brought ideas to the public for testing and continually improve upon the idea until success or recognized failure. All of their products seemed to remain in beta. It seems that higher education likes to explore an idea to death rather than pilot an idea.

Not afraid to fail – It was remarkable to see the number of failed products in the Google history. However, they like to see these failures as lessons learned. I think higher education is too cautious. We don’t like to exhibit that we do not know something or cannot do something.

Culture – Repeatedly, Schmidt and Rosenberg stressed the importance of culture. If people do not like and believe in the place they work, they will leave. Hiring the right people is critical… quickly, fire the ones that are holding the company back. Additionally, the work conditions must also be right. In Google’s case, they provided employees with powerful tools and took care of basic needs. Collaboration and interaction was key. Collaboration and cooperation  is not going to happen in offices with closed doors.

“You want to invest in the people who are going to do what they think is right, whether or not you give them permission. You’ll find that those people will usually be your best smart creatives” (Schmidt & Rosenberg, 2014, p. 47).

Data – According to the authors, data drives decisions not the HiPPOs.  HiPPO – An interesting term that has a lot of impact and weight in most organizations; unfortunately, it is also what keeps organizations from being innovative.

Transparency – It seems that all documents to include financial are readily accessible within the Google organization for everyone to view. They believe that information available to all personnel yields better decisions. Transparency has not been a word I would use in most organizations I have worked.

Open – In line with transparency is the idea of open. We should be striving for open systems where new ideas can develop. The authors have provided countless examples where open systems have surpassed closed proprietary systems. Perhaps higher education needs to open a bit more.

Continuous learning – Google strives to hire people who are forever curious. The most important thing you can do in life is continuously learn.

Don’t follow the competition – The authors also emphasized that Google does not follow their competition, they are aware of them, but they do not follow them. Make your own path. When I look at higher ed, many attend higher ed conferences and meetings. As a result, the same ideas are being passed around. I recommend attending conferences outside of the industry as a means of bringing in new ideas.

This book also provided other ideas that I will be incorporating as a manager. These ideas include:

This book gave a different perspective on how to run an organization. I personally have gleaned a number of great ideas that I want to try in the years ahead. Higher education has some challenges ahead of it, perhaps it is time to start thinking differently before someone else does.

“Users are more empowered than ever, and won’t tolerate crummy products” (Schmidt & Rosenberg, 2014, p. 216). “Consumers have a voice” (Schmidt & Rosenberg, 2014, p. 245).

References

Schmidt, E., & Rosenberg, J. (2014). How Google Works (First edition.). New York: Business Plus.

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