What would Google say?

I spent the day yesterday at Google and environs—my first visit to Olympus—and came away with one word: smart. I guess I missed that rule in the book: HIre smart people, act smart, be smart. It’s simple and obvious, but I can’t help feel that that is what sets Google apart from other companies: an assumption of intelligence.

As I left, friend Kevin Marks showed me the equipment store where Googlers can just swipe an employee card and pick up a cable or a power adapter or a laptop case: no requisition forms and bureaucrats to go through. They just make it work. He came over on one of the bikes that are scattered across campus and rescattered each night. The famous free food keeps people on campus working. My book talk was organized, I was amazed to learn, by volunteers who manage visits by filmmakers, musicians, authors, and now green leaders. One of the volunteers works hard on the visits, so he comes in on weekends to handle more tickets. Another volunteer told me over lunch – a damned fine burrito – that since he arrived at Google from college six months ago, Google has been teaching him coding; he said the assumption is that if you need to know how to do something, you take a course or go find someone who can teach you. Smart people learning, with roadblocks to that removed. It feels like the extension campus of Stanford. Well, it is.

My book talk was fun. They’ll be putting it up on YouTube soon so you can judge how I did. I wish that the room had been reversed: that I’d been sitting in the audience and they had told me their rules and what I got right and wrong. The discussion was about supporting news, about privacy and publicness, about Google’s image. I couldn’t take notes, of course, so I’m sorry that I’m a bad correspondent; it’ll be on the video. Then I met with folks at GoogleNews just to talk about the landscape and future and enjoyed the conversation pushing issues facing the business. Finally, I sat with Kevin in one of those famous lounges – after he made his own latte – and saw some of the amazing things he is working on in Open Social and Friend Connect; more on that later. Next stop: Mountain View and a book talk and signing – under the benevolent cloud of Google wi-fi – where the discussion was about whether Google should be trusted with its power.

I rarely wish I were young but yesterday, I did. If I were younger and smarter, I’d kill to work at a Google (is there more than one?). Oh, I have no doubt that there are frustrations and inefficiencies and politics inside its walls; Googlers are still (for now) human. But I would love to have worked for a company where at least the culture decrees that the default is smart and the expectation is learning and the response to problems is finding solutions. For those who think I admire Google too much, yesterday didn’t help.

  • you wrote: “If I were younger and smarter, I’d kill to work at a Google…”
    Err… I believe I was hired by Google when I was your age… (Yeah, I’m older than you are…) There is still hope for us old farts!

    bob wyman

    • You may be older, Bob, but you’re also smarter.

  • barry blyn

    glad they were courteous! did they send any nice words your way for the book?

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  • @Jeff–

    The question is raised then: do you regret not talking to Google while doing your book?

    • No. And the same is true for my editor. Google’s own story has been told often. I knew I would be admiring Google and I wanted to that admiration to come from a distance. I fear if I’d visited hq, I might have been even more fawning!

  • freakergrl

    GOOG takes care of every employee’s needs so they need not venture forth into the real world or have a personal life with actual relationships with people outside the GOOG.
    Yeah…laundry service, food service, even toilets that wash your privates…who ever needs to leave and learn to communicate with the outside world?
    They’ve created a class of super employees, that’s all they’ve done.
    I’d totally work there if they wanted me. ;-)
    But seriously, is constant work really what life is all about?

  • hey jeff, great to see you…and, listen to bob…maybe you should come work here :)

  • They’ve created a class of super employees, that’s all they’ve done. I’d totally work there if they wanted me. ;-)

    But seriously, is constant work really what life is all about?

    We all truly live to serve, and are alot happier when we can, and missing something when we can’t. Google is a place where an amazingly big number of employees really can make the whole world better. Google is a place where they’ve mounted a fulcrum big enough to balance the Earth.

    • Funny talk about a glorified ad agency.

      • Jon Kay

        Yup! You might’ve noticed – bizplans DO need a “make money” bit in them somewhere that actually does something. That big pivot does have a hefty rental charge, of course :-).

  • Jeff,
    Got an email from my son Michael this morning that he and his girlfriend Tina(who works at Google) made it to your lecture last night at the SF bookstore. Said they very much enjoyed listening to you.Michael is forwarding me a copy of your book which I will keep on my desk in newsroom for inspiration in these challenging times. They also sent some photos that I will send you if they okay.

    Still think you should put MN on your list-we do have the country’s largest mall!
    Caroline Lowe
    PS-Any thoughts on Tim Armstrong and his PATCH plans for delivering local news? What role do you see for Google.

  • Jeff,

    I worked at Google in NYC for half a year and had a similar experience to yours – the first day. A lot of things are wonderful about Google. But one big problem is that the employees are so gaga over Google that they lose all objectivity and skepticism. The ills of outdated corporate structure were just as bad there as anywhere else I’ve worked, (including groupthink, power plays, overworking and exploitation) but most of the “Googlers” had never worked anywhere else, so they assumed they were in paradise. After all, the lunch and massages were free.

    Good thing you didn’t stay long enough to drink the Koolade.

  • Hi!
    Your Youtube-Link doesn’t work. Can you please update the link?
    Thanks from Germany

    • It’s not up yet. That’s where they said it will go.

  • Jorge A.

    So you write a book about google. A book about the psychology and corporate personality of the company itself. And today was the first time you have ever visited the company? Hmmmm…

    • I’ve made this clear and said often that this is not a book about Google but a book about the changes in our world, understood through the lens of Google’s success. That is the book I chose to write and my editor chose to buy.

  • Eric Gauvin

    Dear Jeff,

    Please answer this, even though by now I think you must think I’m always just attacking you, but what specifically do you mean by “reverse-engineering” google?

    • Because you are always attacking me and rarely talking about the ideas, only looking for a way to zing.
      What I mean is quite obvious, I think: trying to understand how Google – and Amazon, Facebook, craigslist, eBay, Flickr, and other companies that understand the changes in our economy and society – look at the world and what makes them succeed as a result.

      • Eric Gauvin

        Okay, so “reverse-engineering” really means “trying to understand” so you can give your opinion. I don’t think it’s “quite obvious.” It sounds like just your imagination and opinion–nothing to do with what comes to mind at the thought of “reverse-engineering.”

        • Eric:
          Let’s stipulate that you don’t like me. It’s fairly fucking obvious. Now can we move on? Please discuss ideas and notions. Try leaving one comment without me as the subject or object. Have something to say on your own. This has become quite tiresome and I am finished with responding to your insults.

  • Andy Freeman

    Jarvis’ usage (and description) of “reverse engineering” is consistent with the dominant usage. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_engineering .

    Perhaps Gauvin will tell us what he thinks the term means and (if different) what he thought Jarvis might have meant.

  • Eric Gauvin

    @Andy Freeman
    Sorry for being so critical of his marketing blurb. I still think it’s weird that he didn’t do a more direct analysis of google. Just my opinion but it seems like “reverse engineered google” is an exaggeration.

    • Andy Freeman

      Hmm. Watch the goal posts move.

      Gauvin complains about Jarvis’ usage of the term “reverse engineering”. When someone points out that said usage appears to be in the mainstream and asks Gauvin to support said complaint, Gauvin dances away.

      If the “reverse engineering” criticism turns out to be unwarranted, man-up because that gives you some credibility going forward. If the reverse engineering criticism is warranted, defend it.

      I find Gauvin’s replacement, “Jarvis didn’t write the book that I wanted”, to be somewhat odd. Very few books or articles are exactly what I want. Is Gauvin’s experience different?

      • Eric Gauvin

        Nope. Not “dancing away” at all. I think it’s a major exaggeration to say that he did any reverse engineering, but since my comments are starting to sound like letters from the zodiac killer, I decided to accept that he meant it very loosely in the context of his marketing blurb, which seems to be a strong point of Jarvis.

        • You can’t even dance away without firing shots over your shoulder. Enough, Eric, enough. I get it. Hey readers, Eric thinks you should never invite us to the same party. Get it?

          Now, Eric, this is the point in the party when you shift away and find a conversation to which you can contribute.

        • Any more and you officially enter the land of trolls.

  • Sandra

    Was inspired to get your book after hearing you on NY Public Radio with Larry. I find it very useful and am using it in my preparation to launch my business. Do remember to update your page on ‘About Me/Disclosure’ now that the book is out. Congrats!

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