Tuesday evening I went to the How Google Works book presentation by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg at Sixth&I in Washington, DC. Eric Schmidt is Google’s executive chairman and Jonathan Rosenberg the former SVP of products. The event was fascinating, intriguing and also somewhat disappointing. I walked away thinking that the title of the book should have been How Google Worked.
The book is an easy and interesting read. However, I would not recommend it for its management advice, but rather as an entertaining and interesting history of Google. My takeaway from both the event and the book is that if you try to copy Google to become a “Google,” you are totally on the wrong track.
What makes Google remarkable is that it is a company driven by technology and engineers in a place where management thinking rules. Both Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg were managers when they started at Google, and they had to significantly adjust and adapt their management styles in order to be successful as Google employees—before making Google a success.
Instead of copying Google, let’s look at how some giants in the computer technology came about. If you compare AT&T, Microsoft, Apple and Google, each firm:
- Proceeded in an area where no-one else had gone before, with the belief that their product would serve humankind. They did not copy their products, business model or company culture from anyone else;
- Had leadership who learned how to make the business grow on the go, learning from mistakes and celebrating successes;
- Kept reinventing themselves. Staying put was not an option, either because of fierce competition in the case of Microsoft, Google and Apple, or the threat of government break-up in the case of AT&T.
Do I recommend that you read the book? Absolutely. It provides great insights in what it took to make Google “Google.” Both Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg came to Google with great experience, yet the book illustrates how even they still had a lot to learn. It shows how much effort and attention to detail it takes to be different, and to have a coherent company culture. Even Google’s legal department functions differently from most firms. In addition, it shows how much guts is needed to obtain glory.
However, to me, the book seems to describe the past. It describes How Google Worked. To stay ahead of the game, any company has to keep adjusting and keep moving to serve an ever-growing product portfolio and customer base. Doing more of the same is not an option. Without continuous learning and adjusting, even a firm like Google will soon be out of business.
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