"How Google Works" by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg (2014)
"First, keep it flat. In most companies, there is a basic underlying tension: People claim that they want a flat organization so they can be closer to the top, but in fact they usually long for hierarchy. Smart creatives are different: They prefer a flat organization, less because they want to be closer to the top and more because they want to get things done and need direct access to decision-makers."
At the time this book was published, Eric Schmidt was the Executive Chairman of Google, and Jonathan Rosenberg was a former SVP (whatever that means) of Products. At the time of writing, Schmidt is the Executive Chairman of Alphabet, Inc., a parent company of Google, and Rosenberg is also working with (for?) Alphabet, Inc. Schmidt is also ranked the 119th richest person in the world. Both Schmidt and Rosenberg wrote How Google Works as a way of explaining Google's corporate philosophy.
Anyone with a computer - or maybe even anyone alive - knows Google's recent history. The company started with their search engine, which at the time was competing with alternatives such as Microsoft's Bing and Ask Jeeves, and quickly rose to become the most influential tech company in the world. They've also developed the Android operating system for mobile devices, bought up YouTube, and their map application, Google Maps, has become indispensable for countless users worldwide.
What might be less obvious is the corporate philosophy that has allowed this company to survive in an economy where technology continues to accelerate the rate of change. The core of this philosophy, as the quote above suggests, is in the creation of an environment where "smart creatives" can thrive. These smart creatives are people who innovate, not out of a desire for money but out of a need to change things. Establishing the kind of environment that attracts (and retains) smart creatives involves a less hierarchical corporate structure, freedom to pursue individual projects, and mechanisms within the company that allow it to respond better to market forces.
As you can imagine, How Google Works is full of corporatespeak and references to bygone competitors. It probably sounds boring to you, but it's a surprisingly easy read and I found it fairly engaging throughout. It also had me thinking about schools where I've worked, and whether or not the Google corporate model could be applied to them. I have grave doubts that this is possible, but in the right kind of private school, with the right kind of teachers, it just might work.
If you're like a lot of people, you find Google both useful and kind of scary. Useful because it's the only thing going in certain areas, and scary because it often symbolizes everything that's "wrong" with the world. I share some of your trepidation, but I can also say that reading this book has made Google less scary for me, and it's also helped me understand some of what's driving the tech industry. I still can't say that I view Google in entirely benign terms, but reading How Google Works has softened my opinions to some extent.
Expecting "ideological consistency" from a book written in such a general way is silly, but after reading How Google Works I recommend reading this article in The Guardian. It points out some of the ways in which Google's history as presented in this book clashes with what actually happened. I think this review is more pedantic than that book deserves, but it's still worth reading.
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