Saturday, February 21, 2009

Planet Google

Innovation and creativity are two qualities that fascinate me because they are two traits that I desire to improve in my own life. Starbucks, Apple, and Google are three companies which have amazing quantities of creativity and innovation. I have determined to take a closer look at these companies to try and find out the source of their creativity, innovation, and industry perception.

I began my quest by examining Google through the reading of Planet Google by Randall Stross (2008, Free Press) during my multi-leg, multi-day trip to and from Kosovo (see my previous post for an explanation of what I was doing there!). Stross has an engaging writing style and includes lots of interesting inside information about the corporate culture at Google; however he does suffer from a tendency to jump from one topic to the next. As long as you can keep more than one story line going in your head, you’ll be fine!

Stross’ book chronicles Google’s unexpected and surprising rise to search engine dominance, and the growing PR challenges related to privacy concerns and capitalization on its assets. The first lesson on creativity and innovation that I gleaned from Google is to dream big. From the very beginning, the goal of Sergey Brin and Larry Page was to “organize the world’s information.” As two post doctoral students with very little experience or capital, this was an absolutely audacious goal. Their quest to organize information is the key mission of Google and has guided its development ever since. Several top Googlers have indicated that it will take 300 years for Google to organize every piece of information in the world. No one really knows how accurate this estimate is or whether Google is providing the 300 year number as a serious estimate, but no one doubts that they will do their best to get the job done.

Google founders Page and Brin view everything as a mathematical problem. This stems from their extensive training as computer programmers (both have doctorate degrees in this field). The corporate culture at Google requires unbelievable problem solving skills which is one of the reasons that advanced degrees are strongly encourage and in many cases required. Employees are encourage to identify and solve problems that interest them—this has led to the development of some of Google’s most promising products—e-mail and the Google chrome web browser for example. The lesson here is to never shy away from a challenge. The human and financial resources at Google seem to be enough to solve virtually any problem.

The third and final lesson that I gleaned from Stross’ book is to adjust and adapt on the fly. Google’s corporate policy is to “publish now, fix later.” Almost all of its products (Google docs, e-mail, chrome) emerged with the beta tag still attached. Google does not wait to work out all of the details and kinks before introducing its products on a wide scale. Google views its users as partners with them in developing their products. Users submit feedback and give suggestions that help the engineers create useful, dynamic products. Getting products out into the market quickly also enables Google to stay ahead of its competitors.  The digital landscape is a wild roller coaster and only those companies which can stay ahead of customer demands will survive. So far, Google has been able to do just that.

Google’s corporate culture is different from that of any company I have heard of. Employees are encouraged to dream big, required to be problem solvers, and forced to adapt on the fly. These three qualities have, helped to make an information superpower. 

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