How to Act Like Google

Last Updated Nov 13, 2008 1:17 PM EST

Google's a big success, so why not copy it? That's the advice of Douglas LaBier, a psychologist who writes in You've Gotta Think Like Google that all it takes is to become:
  • Transparent
  • Flexible
  • Focused
  • Collaborative
As an individual, LaBier says our well-being and success in current times depends, paradoxically, on our ability to put others first. He offers three concrete suggestions:
  • Focus on what you have in common with others rather than on the surface differences between you. Research shows that you can train your brain to do this, starting by visualizing the world from another's perspective without abandoning your own views.
  • Reduce the gaps between your public image and private life. Politicians aren't the only people who risk being tarnished in a very public online forum by their private actions.
  • Don't react emotionally to changes that are not about you even if they affect you. Focus your energies instead on creating a realistic strategy for either improving your situation or changing it.
He's absolutely right that we should try to understand our co-workers, we shouldn't backstab or be hypocrites, and we shouldn't take things personally, even when they're meant that way. Perhaps, and I don't mean this sarcastically, economic crisis will foster more altruistic behavior. The Great Depression was in some ways a time of great community.

Practically speaking, though, Google is a company at the top of the corporate Maslow's Pyramid. Its stock price is weak, of course, but it's very profitable, it employs lots of smart people whose jobs appear to be in no danger, and it seems to treat them very well. General Motors can try to be like Google all it wants, and there's no escaping that it functions on the very bottom of Maslow's Pyramid, with its physiological needs in real question. It will take much more effort for employees at a company like that to behave as LaBier acts (though it would probably be rewarding, and may be the only way out of its current crisis).

Even Google has recently started to cut things like certain social gatherings, and saw some slowing of advertising growth. And given that Google is widely said to have a culture that puts software engineers above other employees, LaBier might want to find a different corporate model.

There may be some practical things that any company can do to follow Google's path:
  1. Hire well
  2. Give people freedom
  3. Focus on simplicity, even as you expand your products
  4. Be lucky
Here's a good summary of what makes Google go.
  • Michael Fitzgerald

    Michael Fitzgerald writes about innovation and other big ideas in business for publications like the New York Times, The Economist, Fast Company, Inc. and CIO. He’s worked as a writer or editor at Red Herring, ZDNet, TechTV and Computerworld, and has received numerous awards as a writer and editor. Most recently, his piece on the hacker collective the l0pht won the 2008 award for best trade piece from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He was also a 2007 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion.

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