I started reading "How Google Works" with the expectation I would learn something magical...okay maybe magical is not the right word but I hoped to learn something new that I could bring to my work—new process, structure, projects or activities.
Its not that I didn't learn anything from the book, I absolutely did. In fact, "How Google Works" is a great book that is easy to read and well written with a strong focus on culture. I have seen Eric Schmidt speak once at MWC and the book is as if you were sitting front row listening.
Focus on the user and all else will follow.
What I learned, that we all already know but maybe don't spend the time to think about, is that the secret sauce to building great culture is it all begins with hiring.
Eric and Jon talk interspersed throughout the book, switching between perspectives, one voice, in the 3rd person.
The format works as if you were listening to the Wizard from Emerald City read the words aloud. Cheeky, smart, and optimistic, "How Google Works" is a great piece of propaganda—with sprinklings of knowledge nuggets throughout.
Early on, the concept of "Smart Creatives" are introduced as a way of describing some Googlers, but ultimately the elite players who you want to hire. A Smart Creative is someone who possess "business savvy, technical knowledge, creative energy, and a hands-on approach to getting things done." They are everywhere and can be everyone. They are self-thinkers, challenge the status quo, and attack things differently yielding high-impact across your org.
Smart Creatives can be challenging to manage because you "can't tell these type of people how to think—so you have to manage the environment where they think.", according to the book. And here sets the backbone of what "How Google Works" is all about: hiring smart creatives and creating an environment where Smart Creatives want to stay and can be successful.
A Smart Creative is someone who possess "business savvy, technical knowledge, creative energy, and a hands-on approach to getting things done."
Yes, open floor plans
Putting Smart Creatives together in a space is combustible—organizations and office spaces need to be able to facilitate the flow of communication and, more importantly, ideas. This means corner offices, cubicles and the like, need to be shot dead before it takes over your company. Remove status, hierarchy, and isolation.
At Google, office spaces are designed to promote "hectic energy". These types of environments enable Smart Creatives—they thrive on the energy and ability to iterate on ideas. As Eric and Jon mention, they still have places where individuals can take time to work on individual work when the group stimulation gets too high or if they've had enough. For organizations who don't have the luxury of secluded pods, I think instituting a headphone policy is a great idea—this can range from "powerhour" sessions of uninterrupted work to something as simple as "don't interrupt someone with headphones".
"The mixture you get when you cram Smart Creatives together is combustible, so a top priority must be to keep them crowded."
Great ideas often happen outside of meetings, having a space that rewards or enables these ideas is paramount.
Create a culture of "Yes"
As a creative manager, I continually feel a strong sense of driving brand from the ground up—that is, buying into the Koolaid with no ifs, ands, or buts, and then pushing brand as far down and up the company chain as possible. Creating a strong brand and culture (often go hand-in-hand) is paramount to what Google's key to success is: hiring great people. It is hard to validate the value of culture but make sure to give it attention—your company's success will validate the time and commitment you spent into creating a great culture.
To keep Smart Creatives (in turn, enable them), Eric and Jon talk about creating a culture of "Yes": "No is like a tiny death to Smart Creatives" they mention. In the startup world, these yes's can fuel your company's success and shows a company run by ideas. As described in the book, when companies start to scale, processes are often put in place to attempt to control the chaos. Be mindful of the processes you create and if they are facilitating a culture of "No." or "Yes." Do not send your employees through rigorous processes, approvals or meetings unnecessarily nor as a method for deterring them.
One of the stories in the book I really enjoyed, described a meeting about rolling out the new HD feature for youtube: The team was gathered in a product meeting to talk about the status of this new feature. When questioned on the go live date, the team of engineers echoed, "It is scheduled for a few more weeks". Challenging the idea of getting things done fast, it was quickly revealed that the new HD feature was ready and was merely sitting on the deck, slowed down by process: "So if we launched it tomorrow, we'd have no problems?"
The next day HD on youtube was live. What a cool story, huh? Are there stories like this in your org? I love the idea of launching the product, iterating, and most importantly, being conscious of superficial barriers try to slow you down.
Propaganda worth your time
I really enjoyed reading "How Google Works". The book is fun, engaging, and easy to read. The message, especially in the startup and app world, is captivating and relatable. Whether Google actually follows what they preach in the book, the message is clear: Put your ego aside, hire great people and create an environment to enable them. There are unorthodox & creative ways to empower Smart Creatives and surrounding teams to do their best work.
Don't be afraid to try something new and be a partner in the success of your Smart Creatives, your team and surrounding teams, depend on you to push the boundaries.