BOOK REVIEW : “How Google Works” by Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg

How Google WorksAny company that is so successful that its name has become a verb deserves to be studied. This excellent book gives some insights into the workings of one of today’s richest and most admired companies. I’m very grateful to my colleague, Gordon Ray, for having brought this to my attention.

Key words

Google, company culture, innovation, talent management, Jeff Bezos, network, search machine


The book is highly readable even for those that do not have an engineering background. In fact, it is clear where the authors stand right from the start, saying that Jonathan Rosenberg was hired by this company despite that he had an MBA and a business background. Google is, therefore, a highly engineering culture, and they have a rule that at least two-thirds of the employees must be engineers. Tbezos quotehe book focuses mainly on the internal workings of the company with chapters dealing with themes such as culture, strategy, talent, decisions, and communication.

In fact, it is the culture of the company and how it works internally that is the central theme of this book. It outlines the overriding philosophy of the founders and current leaders of the company, giving some useful anecdotes along the way. The authors restate Jeff Bezos’ two pizza rule that the team should not be so large that they could not share two pizzas for lunch. It advocates agility in projects, even talking about killing some of the products that Google made that did not immediately work.

Google and their HR policies 

The book is also useful for those people primarily concerned in human resources and particularly talent management. It advocates that interviews should be no longer than 30 minutes. Google even did some tests to see how accurate they were in their hiring, finding that after the fifth interview there was no real impact to interviewing people anymore. AsScreenshot_6_27_13_10_36_AM a statistically oriented company, there is a highly methodological approach to hiring people that is designed to take out the personal factor that often comes when new people are brought into a company. The authors also provide examples and funny anecdotes, stating that although they tried to get talent to move within the company, managers are like children after a Halloween evening: they are happy to share their raisins but want to keep their M&Ms.

As with most company / CEO biographies that are co-written with a semi-ghost writer, it is always difficult to know how much comes from the input of the company bosses. That said, the product is an excellent one. Not only does the book give some excellent insights into how Google works and its overall corporate culture, it is highly well researched, referencing at several stages different research that has been done. It is a book well worth reading.

In this talk at the Oxford Union, Schmidt and Rosenberg discuss the inner workings of Google, touching on subjects such as company culture, innovation, and management techniques.

Interesting quotes

“Hire as many talented software engineers as possible, and give them freedom.”

“As Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, says: “In the world, you devoted 30 percent of your time to building a great service and 70 percent of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts”.”

“Once established, company culture is very difficult to change, because early on in a company’s life a self-selection tendency sets in.”

“Follow your typical Google from the volleyball court, café, or kitchen back to their workspace and what will you find? A series of cubicles that are crowded, messy, and a petri dish for creativity.”

“Messiness is not an objective in itself, but since it is a frequent by-product of self-expression and innovation, it’s usually a good sign.”

“Since there is no perfect organizational design, don’t try to find one. Get as close as you can and let your smart creatives figure out the rest.”

“When a CEO looks around her staff meeting, a good rule of thumb is that at least 50 percent of the people at the table should be experts in the company’s products and services and responsible for product development.”

“Marissa Mayer, who became Silicon Valley’s most famous working mother not long after she took over as Yahoo’s CEO in 2012, says that burnout isn’t caused by working too hard, but by resentment at having to give up what really matters to you.”

“Eric was once asked at a company meeting what the Google dress code was “You must wear something” was his answer.”

“Whereas the twentieth century was dominated by monolithic, closed networks, the twenty-first will be driven by global, open ones. There are platform opportunities all around us.”

“Sun cofounder Bill Joy noted, “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”.”

“Ford said that “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep you mind young”.”

“The most important skill any business person can develop is interviewing. You’ve probably never read that in any management book or heard it in an MBA course.”

“But there is a golden rule to hiring that cannot be violated: The urgency of the role isn’t sufficiently important to compromise quality in hiring. In the inevitable showdown between speed and quality, quality must prevail.”

“But as Berkeley political science professor Raymond Wolfinger once observed, “the plural of anecdote is data,” which means, by our interpretation, that if you don’t have data, you can’t decide.”

“If you want to change people’s behaviour, you need to touch their hearts, not just win the argument. We call this the Oprah Winfrey rule.”

A simplified explanation of how Google works

See more book reviews:

BOOK REVIEW: Amazon “One Click” by Richard L. Brandt (2012)

one click

This book is an interesting and impartial look at the development of Amazon. Unfortunately, it gets off to a terrible start. Any 9th Grader will have heard a hundred times that a good essay begins with a clear and dynamic start and finishes with a punchy conclusion. What a pity that Mr. Brandt seems to have forgotten this advice. The book is actually a very enjoyable read with a lot of information about Amazon. It is you really want to have a good impression of it, you should skip the first and last chapters.

BOOK REVIEW: “A Song in the Night: A Memoir of Resilience” by Bob Massie (2012)

cover“From my earliest moments, my life was marked by deep joy interrupted regularly by searing physical pain.” 

Born with hemophilia, Bob Massie’s story is literally stunning. I was fortunate enough to attend one of his talks recently and like some fifty odd colleagues I was spellbound for over an hour as he talked about the struggles he has had to overcome. He is not bitter or filled with regret. He final message is one of this hope and joy. “If I am lucky,” he says  “I have another 10 000 days on this Earth and I intend to enjoy every single one of them.”

BOOK REVIEW: “Strategy Rules: Five Timeless Lessons from Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs” by David B. Yoffie & Michael A. Cusumano (2015)

Gates, Grove & JobsDavid Yoffie and Michael Cusumano spent almost 30 years studying Steve Jobs, Andy Grove and Bill Gates. Both have already written extensively about the technology industries. This book brings into perspective strategic rules having used of the three CEOs that have the most effects on the technology industry and business in general over the last few decades.

1 Comment

Filed under Advanced Management Program, Book Review, Business, Innovation, Leadership, Management, Strategy, USA

One response to “BOOK REVIEW : “How Google Works” by Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg

  1. I’m glad you liked it Mark. I appreciate seeing your perspective on it–thanks for the review!

    I’m currently reading Lazlo Bock’s book (Work Rules!) on Google, also looking at company culture. I’ll look forward to comparing notes!

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