25 September 2014
This book is written by Eric Schmidt the executive chairman of Google, it goes in to detail about how to manage staff, encourage innovation and generally do business the Google way.
I will try and sum up what I think are the most important parts.
The Google approach is focus on the user, create great products first then figure out a way to make money from it later. To do this requires they hire as many talented engineers as possible and give them the freedom to do their job. Failure is fine, in fact it is sometimes inevitable but try and learn from it. Google is trying to bring a university type environment of research and development to the business world.
Google believes in the internet age a product's quality is much more important than before, people are more well informed and lots of advertising, control of distribution channels etc don't have the same effect as they used to.
"As Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, says: "In the old world, you devoted 30 percent of your time to building a great service and 70 percent of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts." The second reason product excellence is so critical is that the cost of experimentation and failure has dropped significantly. You see this most dramatically in high-tech industries, where a small team of engineers, developers, and designers can create fabulous products and distribute them online globally for free.
It's ridiculously easy to imagine and create a new product, try it out with a limited set of consumers, measure precisely what works and what doesn't, iterate the product, and try again. Or throw it out and start over, that much smarter for the experience.
But experimentation costs are lower for manufactured goods as well. One can model prototypes digitally, build them with a 3-D printer, market test them online, adjust their design based on the resulting data, and even raise production funds online with a prototype or slick video. Google[ x], a team working on some of Google's most ambitious projects, built the first prototype of Google Glass, a wearable mobile computer as light as a pair of sunglasses, in just ninety minutes. It was quite crude, but served a powerful purpose: Don't tell me, show me.
Product development has become a faster, more flexible process, where radically better products don't stand on the shoulders of giants, but on the shoulders of lots of iterations. The basis for success then, and for continual product excellence, is speed. Unfortunately, like Jonathan's failed gate-based product development framework, most management processes in place at companies today are designed with something else in mind. They were devised over a century ago, at a time when mistakes were expensive and only the top executives had comprehensive information, and their primary objectives are lowering risk and ensuring that decisions are made only by the few executives with lots of information.
In this traditional command-and-control structure, data flows up to the executives from all over the organization, and decisions subsequently flow down. This approach is designed to slow things down, and it accomplishes the task very well. Meaning that at the very moment when businesses must permanently accelerate, their architecture is working against them."
THE SMART CREATIVE
Google call the type of employee they want a "smart creative". A smart creative is kind of like a knowledge worker but on steroids, here is the explanation:
"A smart creative has deep technical knowledge in how to use the tools of her trade, and plenty of hands-on experience. In our industry, that means she is most likely a computer scientist, or at least understands the tenets and structure of the systems behind the magic you see on your screens every day. But in other industries she may be a doctor, designer, scientist, filmmaker, engineer, chef, or mathematician."
She is an expert in doing. She doesn't just design concepts, she builds prototypes. She is analytically smart. She is comfortable with data and can use it to make decisions. She also understands its fallacies and is wary of endless analysis. Let data decide, she believes, but don't let it take over.
She is business smart. She sees a direct line from technical expertise to product excellence to business success, and understands the value of all three. She is competitive smart. Her stock-in-trade starts with innovation, but it also includes a lot of work. She is driven to be great, and that doesn't happen 9-to-5.
She is user smart. No matter the industry, she understands her product from the user or consumer's perspective better than almost anyone. We call her a "power user," not just casual but almost obsessive in her interest. She is the automotive designer who spends her weekends fixing up that '69 GTO, the architect who can't stop redesigning her house.
She is her own focus group, alpha tester, and guinea pig. A smart creative is a firehose of new ideas that are genuinely new . Her perspective is different from yours or ours. It's even occasionally different from her own perspective, for a smart creative can play the perspective chameleon when she needs to.
She is curious creative. She is always questioning, never satisfied with the status quo, seeing problems to solve everywhere and thinking that she is just the person to solve them. She can be overbearing. She is risky creative. She is not afraid to fail, because she believes that in failure there is usually something valuable she can salvage. Either that, or she is just so damn confident she knows that even in the event that she does fail, she can pick herself up and get it right the next time around. She is self-directed creative.
She doesn't wait to be told what to do and sometimes ignores direction if she doesn't agree with it. She takes action based on her own initiative, which is considerable.
She is open creative. She freely collaborates, and judges ideas and analyses on their merits and not their provenance. If she were into needlepoint, she would sew a pillow that said, "If I give you a penny, then you're a penny richer and I'm a penny poorer, but if I give you an idea, then you will have a new idea but I'll have it too." Then she would figure out a way to make the pillow fly around the room and shoot lasers. She is thorough creative. She is always on and can recite the details, not because she studies and memorizes, but because she knows them. They are her details.
She is communicative creative. She is funny and expresses herself with flair and even charisma, either one-to-one or one-to-many. 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."
This chapter describes how to create a environment that attracts smart creatives and allows them to thrive.
Such things are how office layout can encourage interaction and how people working on the same project should all be seated close to each other. A messy office is fine as it is often a by product of self expression and innovation.
The importance of the quality of an idea based on its merit not the status of the person saying it is important. Getting rid of hierarchy and having as flat as possible corporate structure so smart creatives have direct access to the decision-makers, mangers are given a minimum of seven direct reports that way they don't have the time to micromanage so employees have more freedom.
People with questionable integrity (what Google called knaves) need to be dealt with quickly but don't confuse them with the what Google call divas " Knaves are not to be confused with divas. Knavish behavior is a product of low integrity; diva-ish behavior is one of high exceptionalism.
Knaves prioritize the individual over the team; divas think they are better than the team, but want success equally for both. Knaves need to be dealt with as quickly as possible. But as long as their contributions match their outlandish egos, divas should be tolerated and even protected. Great people are often unusual and difficult, and some of those quirks can be quite off-putting. Since culture is about social norms and divas refuse to be normal, cultural factors can conspire to sweep out the divas along with the knaves.
As long as people can figure out any way to work with the divas, and the divas' achievements outweigh the collateral damage caused by their diva ways, you should fight for them. They will pay off your investment by doing interesting things. (And if you have been reading this paragraph thinking "she" every time we mention diva, remember that Steve Jobs was one of the greatest business divas the world has ever known!)"
Instead of ordering people to work late tell them to own the things for which they are responsible and they will do what is needed to get things done, burnout is not the result of working too hard but by resentment of giving up what really matters to you. Give the smart creatives control and they will usually make their own best decisions about how to balance their lives.
The importance of a fun culture, saying yes to projects and Google's famous "Don't be evil" is covered.
Your plan is most certainly at least slightly wrong and will have to change. Technical insights to help drive product development is covered, often solutions to narrow problems can have their scope widened and people do not realise the full range of uses for new technologies e.g when Bell Labs invented the laser they initially put off patenting it as they thought it had little commercial potential!
Incrementally improving things is fine for current market leaders but radically new approaches are often needed for new players to get a foothold.
The advantages of prioritizing growth over maximizing revenue, not been obsessed with what the competition is doing and the advantages of opening your systems to others is also covered.
Considering how important Google thinks their employes are it is no surprise that Google consider hiring as the most important thing a manager will ever do. Lots of tips and advice such as hiring people smarter than you, not dropping quality standards even if the role needs filling urgency and how to spot people who are genuinely passionate about what they do is covered.
The importance of allowing debate and conflict in decision making is covered:
"Reaching this best idea requires conflict. People need to disagree and debate their points in an open environment, because you won't get buy-in until all the choices are debated openly. They'll bobblehead nod, then leave the room and do what they want to do. So to achieve true consensus, you need dissent. If you are in charge, do not state your position at the outset of the process. The job is to make sure everyone's voice is heard, regardless of their functional role, which is harder to achieve when the top dog puts a stake in the ground.
As General Patton famously said, "If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking." If you've hired well, there's good news: There is dissension in the ranks. Lots of people are thinking. Smart creatives, especially at the most senior leadership level, should and usually do think of themselves as owners of the business, rather than leaders of just their particular area. Therefore they should have opinions, and quite possibly valuable insights, even about decisions that fall outside their realm. Encourage this, since it helps build a stronger bond among the team and stronger support for the ultimate decision.
Using data can be helpful to get everyone to weigh in, since it's not personal. Be especially aware of the quiet people; call on the ones who haven't spoken up yet. They may be dissenters who are afraid to disagree with you in public (but need to get over that fear), or they may be of the shy but brilliant type. Or perhaps they truly have nothing to say, in which case maybe they shouldn't be at the meeting in the first place. One technique is to throw out a few "stupid softballs" that let people dip their toe in the water of disagreeing with the boss. (" I think we should all pour hydrochloric acid on ourselves. Thoughts?") Do your best to surface all potential dissent early in the process ; there is a natural (and valid) bias toward rejecting dissent the later it surfaces in the decision-making process.
Once everyone weighs in with an opinion, then the argument will be on, and everyone can participate in the decision-making process and have their voice be heard. A proper consensus -driven process has elements of inclusion (involving all the stakeholders in a participatory manner ); cooperation (aiming for the best decision for the group, sometimes at the solution. As Coach Wooden once said, "Be interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way.""
Knowing when to stop the debate and start doing things is important as well:
"The job of the decision-maker , then, is to get the timing just right. Exhibit a bias for action, to cut off debate and analysis that is no longer valuable, and start moving the team to rally around the decision. But don't be a slave to a sense of urgency. Maintain flexibility until the last possible moment."
The old ways of information hording by the people at the top do not work when you need to empower smart creatives. "(Bill Gates in 1999: "Power comes not from knowledge kept but from knowledge shared. A company's values and reward system should reflect that idea.") Leadership's purpose is to optimize the flow of information throughout the company, all the time, every day."
The importance of not shooting the messenger when told bad news is considered important, open, transparent honest communications are vital.
Other subjects include doing business with hostile companies, been interviewed by journalists and gaining the trust of your coworkers.
The similarities and differences in how Apple and Google innovate is covered, it is interesting that both companies tend to ignore market research and rely on their own understanding of what consumers really want.
Google has 3 criteria for innovative products to get the go ahead:
1) Must solve important problem
2) Must be radically different from anything else on market
3) Must be feasible in not-too-distance future
Having a innovation leader tell people to innovate does not work, instead you must allow people to innovate, not order them to do it. Innovation must evolve organically, allow people to do things and see what happens, if it works turn it into a product and then you can figure out how to make money from it.
The need to understand that products will never be perfect and it is better to ship and iterate than keep putting off release dates trying to make something perfect. Marketing and PR for the new product will be minimal at launch, wait until the product starts to show some promise then you can start the big investments.
This is not a excuse to dump half completed products on people but if you have a small but high quality feature set with the promise of more features at launch date people can accept that.
Accepting failure as part of the road to building successful products is important:
"As Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams says, "It helps to see failure as a road and not a wall." Mulla Nasrudin, the thirteenth-century wise fool of Sufi lore, seconds the notion : "Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment." "
This book describes the secret sauce that makes Google so great and is worth its weight in gold to people working in related industries.