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Monday, June 21, 2004Google's engineers, founders and CEO have all the earmarks of a Great Group—a talent-driven organization or enterprise, filled with people who set out to do something extraordinary and succeed in doing something that's never been done before. And like other Great Groups, Google has a few unique twists of its own.Google, whose revolutionary approach to search dominates the field, seems to have the ingredients that have produced greatness in the past. Whether commercially successful or not, all our Great Groups were daring innovators who were convinced not just of the importance of their work but that they were all but on a mission from God. All were carefully chosen collections of extraordinary talents who worked on their world-changing projects with an obsessive brio that often made them forget to eat or sleep—and occasionally doomed their marriages. However brilliant, they all believed, at least for the duration of the project, that "None of us is as smart as all of us." The closer you look at how Google operates, the more you see signs that founders Sergey Brin, 30, and Larry Page, 31, and their 48-year-old CEO, Eric E. Schmidt, are doing the right thing to make greatness possible. Like many other creative enterprises, Google encourages the kind of experimentation that, even if it ends in failure, identifies what won't work before the company has invested too much into an idea. The fact that Google can float new features on its site—such as its controversial e-mail service Gmail—and constantly evaluate user response, gives the company an enormous leg up in deciding which applications users like.
Just as important, Google has an organizational structure that encourages creativity instead of stifling it. Rather than being assigned tasks, engineers are guided by a company-wide "Top 100" list of projects, though the actual list numbers twice that many. And to make sure ideas are not shot down before their time, some on the list are marked with an S, for Skunk Works, to make them safe from critical battering. Google's head of engineering, Wayne Rosing, told Fast Company magazine that when he first joined Google, in 2001, its engineering department had managers. But, as Rosing put it, the managers tended to tell the engineers, " 'No, you can't do that.' So Google got rid of the managers." Now most of the staff work on projects they choose; engineers form three-person teams, and members take turns acting as leader. Great Groups are famously averse to heavy-handed management; members often respond to it by walking out the door. The unusual decision to eliminate managers is the sign of a company that is inventing itself as it goes along. Google never fails to amaze me, everytime, I read about it - Warren Bennis here gives his view of Google's greatness.
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