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Three years on, Google is yet to stumble in a big way. It would be interesting to see an update reflecting the current state of affairs.

Name Withheld

I have had two phone interviews with Google in the past week. I have asked each interviewer about the “don’t be evil” policy at Google. In both cases, the first words out of the interviewer’s mouth were “We are environmentally friendly….” I was working under the prevailing assumption that the first cannon of the “don’t be evil” policy would be “Don’t treat your fellow employee like an asshole.” I guess my assumption was incorrect.

Wally Bock

This seems to be a natural human pattern. First we do well. Then we begin to think we can't do otherwise. Then bad things happen because we've substituted the idea of perfection for the reality of fallibility. If I remember my Greek philosophy correcting, Hubris is followed by Nemesis.

Bob Sutton


Fair enough, and they certainly are hiring people who are very smart still, but the hints I am getting are that some of their old norms are slipping, and moreover, it takes much different systems to run a big company than a little one and those systems aren't quite in place. Moreover, I should also emphasize that we never said that smart people don't matter, just that they over-rated -- all things being equal, smarter people are probably better. BUT I am getting a lot hints that Google's systems aren't working. In fact, I just finished an executive program that had some current and past Google employees, and one who quit told me he did so because:

1. They hired all these smart people and just figured that they didn't need many systems or much structure -- they would just figure it out. But it isn't working, he said, because there is constant confusion about who is responsible for what, which is leading to dysfunctional conflict (when two or more groups think it is their job) and dropped balls as people think "it isn't my job." Our point in Hard Facts is that even the smartest person often can't succeed in bad system, and if my dim and suspect information is right, they need to work on this stuff. Note this doesn't damn the company or the people, it is still a great place with great people, it just appdars that they need to work on some of this stuff. Even the very best companies struggle to find the right knowledge and put it into action.

2. He also emphasized that another reason he left was that he found the arrogance to be excessive.

Now, I want to emphasize that these might just be growing pains and I might be amplifying weak signals.

But I worry about two other things as well:

1. The "don't be evil" culture might be slipping, which would leave them with just arrogance.

2. What happens when people who are so pampered, so sure of themselves, and see themselves as better than the rest of the species hit the first wave of setbacks? That seems like bad situation that, in the end, will happen.

Again, they remain as great a company as I know, I just worry about some of the growing pains I see and possible risks.



You state above: "I also see other little troubling signs.... And one message I hear over and over again is that Google is hiring so fast that they aren’t always bringing in the very best people."

But previously on your blog you've stated:

"1. Superstars are overrated.

2. Great systems are more important than great people.


Aren't you contradicting yourself?



Bob, I couldn't agree with you more. Ironically, there's about an 85% chance that I'll be working at Google this summer. I'll see what they're all about and come back to you in September with a better idea. In the meantime, I'll be humble. How does that sound?

rick gregory

One of the biggest dangers of such arrogance is that it can leads people to dismiss ideas that aren't invented there and that don't fit the worldview. The prime tech example recently? Microsoft and the web. They were so tied into the desktop as the center of the computing universe that they pooh-poohed the web early on, leaving opportunities for others. Part of this might have been arrogance, but part was that they were making crazy money from the market they dominated - why pay attention to that little thing over there? It's nice, but we can provide all of that on MSN...

The line between supreme confidence and arrogance is fine... confidence great, arrogance usually leads to a certain blindness... and it's easier to stumble when you don't see.

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