Last week I spent about an hour and a half at Google’s New York offices talking to John Burke, Director of Industry Development and Marketing. Burke works for Tim Armstrong and has been at Google since 2002 (read: pre-IPO). He seems as enthusiastic as ever about the place. My intention was to discuss some of Google’s product development efforts and ad agency relationships. Instead, Burke and I spent most of our time talking about the culture at Google, a subject I’m fascinated by.
BusinessWeek has a lengthy article profiling 15 Google employees from around the company. They discuss a range of subjects, but what emerges as a common theme is their affection for the place and the culture.
There’s a “business bestseller” to be written by someone (not me because I don’t have time) comparing the cultures at Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo, and discussing how those cultures have mapped to successes and failures in the marketplace.
From what Burke was telling me, there’s a very self-conscious effort internally to maintain the atmosphere and culture that has enabled Google to succeed thus far. He was saying there’s an active effort to get back to Google’s “scrappy” early days’ spirit of doing things. He also said that the much celebrated (and sometimes maligned) hiring process that carefully scrutinizes each candidate is still intact, despite the company’s size and voracious hiring needs. The challenge, of course, is to keep the excitement and enthusiasm going in a maturing and now very large organization whose stock options aren’t worth as much to newer employees as they might once have been.
InformationWeek has a related profile of Google CIO Douglas Merrill, who is also featured in the BusinessWeek piece. InformationWeek is somewhat more critical of Google, calling Merrill and the larger company “arrogant” in addition to using adjectives such as “genius” to describe him and Google more generally.
Indeed, now that Google has become so successful, in addition to maintaining its playful and famously flexible culture, it must guard against a kind of insidious, creeping arrogance. As Google CEO Eric Schmidt famously opined, “What kills a company is not competition but arrogance.” And that’s arguably Google’s greatest vulnerability right now.