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14 Insights from “How Google Works”

Via LinkedIn : “How Google Works” a must book for every business leaders has in reality something to teach to everyone who takes part in a creative environment.

It proves that messiness is not wrong and that it is important for children to develop hobbies and interests. In fact, most great ideas come not only from necessity but from an interest we might have nurtured since we were children (for example the Android Sky Map was built by a team of Google amateur astronomers in their spare time).

It also offers examples on how important the concepts of Emotional Intelligence and social relationships are to create value in terms of knowledge sharing, absorption and creation, in one word: Innovation.

The book contains plenty of business principles and insights. However, I will summarise 14 of them which I believe make the real difference and can help leaders in focusing in what really matters to reach success, improve processes and create an environment in which everyone is herd and able to express his potential and creativity. Nonetheless, those ones related to innovation and decision making can be applied to the world of academia.

I will divide them into four categories: talent management, decision making, strategy, innovation.

Talent management:

  1. Hiring is the most important thing managers do and it is considered a priority to invest time and energy to get the best people. “Nothing is more important than the quality of hiring”. Interviewing is an important skill: a single hiring manager can make a choice for all the company as the new person will directly impact numerous other team within the company.
  2. That is why according to the Google model hiring should be via committee (whose decision are made upon data, not opinion or relationships) rather than a top- down management (not hierarchical) decision. Managers can participate to the committee and have veto power but not the hiring one (which belongs to the committee as an all). Also recruiting is not confined to recruiters: everyone should get involved in the process. Although hiring talent is the most important activity, the process does not stop here. Managers should be able to give people freedom and create a fertile environment in which they are able to flourish.
  3. Hire smart creatives. Smart creatives are people who have a passion, are intelligent, hold a learning animal mindset and are interesting. This does not mean that this person is someone that we have to like since this not encourage diversity which is an important leverage to innovation. Hiring smart creatives has also the power to attract more great people. “The best workers are like herd: they tend to follow each other”.
  4. Keep people crowded to foster relationships, creativity and avoid isolation and status barriers. However, it is important to give them the option to use quiet places like small conference rooms, nap pods, outdoor spaces.
  5. Exile knaves but fight for divas. To give an example “Steve Jobs was one of the greatest business divas the business world has ever know”. Knaves have low integrity and prioritize the individual over the team. Divas think are better than the team but want success equally for both.

Decision-Making:

  1. Do not listen to Hippos (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion), social relationships (not hierarchy) create value in terms of innovation. The quality of the idea has to win over the person who suggests it.
  2. Consensus is not about everyone agreeing but everyone being heard and then deciding upon the best idea. The ideal consensus process is characterised by inclusion, cooperation and equality.

Strategy:

  1. Know your competitors but do not follow competition. If you focus on your competition, you will never deliver anything truly innovative.
  2. Spend 80 percent of your time on 80 percent of your revenue. This what Bill Gates advised Eric Schdmit when he became CEO of Novell in 1997. “Revenue growth solves all known problems”.
  3. Default to open (with some exceptions). The default model should be to share everything. This principle “generally means sharing more intellectual property such as software code or research results, adhering to open standards rather than creating your own and giving customer the freedom to easily exit your platform”. It looks scary but “platforms scale more quickly when they are open (e.g. the Internet). From a communicational level default to open mean transparency: share all information to your employees and make them in the condition of sharing as well. Through the OKR (individual’s objectives and Key Results) every employees can see what others people goals are, what they are doing and achieving.
  4. 70, 20, 10 resources allocation rule. According to this rule you should focus 70 percent of your resources on the core business, 20 percent on emerging products and 10 percent on completely new projects that have high risks but big payoff if successful.

Innovation:

  1. Creativity loves constraints. This principle is coherent with the 70, 20, 10 rule. It is under this concept that project like Google Books and Street View were born. To underline this concept the authors quote what once observed Frank Lloyd: “The human race built most nobly when limitations were greatest”.
  2. Ideas come from everywhere, in and out the company. Examples of this are meetings like “The Gong Show” in which employees could present their ideas until they were gonged or the “Beer and Demos” meetings were employees were invited to vote ideas wile sipping a beer. The Map Marker, a tool that enable anyone to contribute to Google Maps, was created when the Geo Team discovered that for many areas good maps did not exist.
  3. Failure is not a bad thing if you analyse it. To catch this concept we should think about all the greatest inventions started out with a different aim but ended up with an ingenious result. I have in mind the post-it notes.

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