What it is: A book explaining how Google allows and encourages creativity among its employees.
Whatever you think of Google, they often pursue wildly creative projects such as their initial search engine that returned more accurate results than rivals, Google Maps that physically photographs and maps practically every road on the planet, and Google’s self-driving cars.
It’s far less important what Google does than how they do it. There’s a reason why startups often see fresh opportunities that larger, more powerful companies completely overlook. That’s because big companies are risk-aversive. They tend to protect their core business and resist anything that could threaten this core business.
At one time, Sun Microsystems dominated the workstation market. Yet when asked what their strategy would be to deal with the growing power of Windows PCs that threatened to become more powerful and less expensive than Sun’s workstations, none of the executives at Sun had an answer.
Even worse, none of Sun’s executives wanted to deal with this eventuality that Windows PCs would continue getting more powerful while costing less because that threatened Sun’s core business of selling workstations to corporations. By ignoring this problem, Sun’s executives could avoid dealing with difficult problems.
Of course, ignoring a problem isn’t the same as solving it, so eventually Windows PCs did get more powerful and cheaper than Sun workstations and eventually Sun did flounder. Despite seeing the future clearly ahead of them, Sun’s executives chose the easier path of ignoring the future.
Another problem is that new opportunities often appear as small markets so big companies feel like they can safely ignore them. While big companies like Microsoft and Sun were protecting their core businesses, a small company like Facebook slowly dominated the social network market that bigger companies thought were too trivial to worry about.
By latching on to a small market early, startups can gradually grow as their market expands. By the time bigger companies even notice these startups, they’ve grown so powerful that they can challenge the big companies.
To encourage creativity, Google allows their employees to pursue their own projects and present them to the company. The more people creating projects, the more likely someone will come up with a lucrative idea. This same idea worked at 3M that eventually developed Scotch tape, Scotch guard for protecting furniture, and Post-It notes.
In most big companies, workers are not allowed to be creative. Instead, they’re told to do their work while the upper executives and managers do all the creative thinking. That immediately rules out a tremendous number of possible ideas while only creating ideas that offer low-risk that often supports the company’s core business.
Yet if that core business gets decimated like Sun’s workstation market, the core business and every supporting product goes down the drain with it. Executives look to avoid risk by avoiding anything that threatens to cost money without providing an immediate return. Since the only projects that can provide immediate returns are those that support the company’s core business, executives tend to ignore everything but their core business, even fresh new opportunities that will eventually threaten their core business like digital photography did to Kodak or cheaper PCs did to Sun’s workstation market.
“How Google Works” is an interesting book that shows startups how to build a solid foundation for creativity, but also shows existing corporations how to allow creativity to flourish as well. The more risks a company takes by pursuing multiple projects, the more likely one of them will work whether that project idea came from an executive or an ordinary programmer. Google’s goal is to put smart, creative people together and let them bounce ideas off each other to create something new, interesting, and potentially profitable.
If you currently work at a company that suppresses creativity, you’re at the wrong company. You can try getting the company to change, or better yet, simply start up your own business that wipes out your current employer’s core business.
If you assume someone will wipe out your core business eventually, you might as well make it yourself so you’ll be the one who profits in the end. Just ask Kodak, Blockbuster Video, Borders Books, and Montgomery Wards what happens if you allow others to destroy your core business.
More companies should work like Google and allow creativity to thrive and flourish. Unfortunately, most companies do not, so find the companies that resist change and there’s a good chance you have an opportunity to disrupt their core business and wipe them out in the process. That can be the ultimate reward for creativity in the end.