Larry Page and Steve Jobs: advice given, lessons learned

June 4, 2013
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Application of Wisdom

Larry Page had no intention of turning Google into Apple, but he listened to the message Jobs gave. The Google culture embraces exploration and cooperation, so the myopic and dictatorial nature of Steve Jobs may not have worked so well for Page at Google. The “20 percent time” theory of productivity is core to Google, with products like Gmail and Google Talk (now Hangouts) having been born of that ideal. There are also those products which end up being shuttered, like Orkut or Reader, that show Page’s understanding of Jobs’ message.

Time wasted is worse than profit lost for Google. A small financial loss, or slowly returned investment, is of little concern. Not having arrows in the quiver is cause for Page to worry. Page’s dictum is for Googlers to create amazing things that will enrich lives, and he seems a bit hands-off about how that’s really achieved.

The culture at Google affords such an approach, and it’s one Page has stealthily crafted and guarded over the years. Google is bursting with the right people, in the right positions, with the right mindset. A visceral contradiction to Apple’s seemingly forced attrition, as was evident by almost everyone on the original Mac team quitting after the product launched. They left because of Jobs. While the experience was enriching, Jobs’ management style had worn them down.

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A Google community

Jobs was a brilliant man, who was single-handedly responsible in leading Apple from the doldrums to the class of their field. Page, however, was not interested in volatile management or heavy-handed tactics. Google is more a community than a company, and it’s Page’s job to guide the wheel of the ship in the right direction.

While Jobs gave Page good advice, it was not immediately applicable to Google. The impending doom of spring cleaning each year, in which Google jettisons unnecessary or poorly performing services, is helpful. It serves to strike a balance between 20 percent time, and the task at hand. Making the decision on what to cut and keep is never easy, or perhaps clairvoyant, but it has purpose.

The work

Google has a singular focus, and that’s building amazing products that will enrich lives. The long term goals are substantial, and the real carrot for the crew in Mountain View. To accomplish this, Google operates like a technology man-of-war, as individual services link together, accomplishing the greater purpose.

Without a target on the board, everyone shoots from the hip, in their own directions. When everyone understands their place, their purpose, and the overall goal, we all win. This is Page’s method for applying Jobs’ wisdom: controlled chaos.

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Chaos theory

Naming Google services, we can lose sight of how they work together. Maps, Gmail, Search, Google+ — it goes on and on, and seems so disparate. Can Maps work with Earth? If so, why should they? The same can be asked of any Google service. Just what does Search have to do with social, anyway?

Finding out what Google wanted to be when it grew up meant Page figuring out who he wanted to be when he grew up.

The closer you can build relationships between Google services and teams, the more integral the technology becomes to us. If by searching for a good Thai restaurant in my area, the recommendations of my friends come up (via Google+ posts), I then have more reason to interact. I know what my friends enjoy, I have a reason to get in touch, and perhaps another excuse to re-visit the restaurant with them. From one ten second search, it’s plausible that I have added depth to my life in some small way.

This is the Google way, and how services that seem to have nothing to do with one another can both tie in and be important to each other, as well as all of us. This is the dance Larry Page choreographs, in which our daily lives are made simpler and more functional by the services Google offers.

It’s also important to grasp that Google is about those services, not operating systems. Jobs was upset with Android, and for good reason. Like iOS is a conduit for the App Store, so is Android for the Play Store. The difference is, Google has next to nothing tied into hardware. For them, helping to design a Nexus phone means they control the quality. Selling it for no profit does a multitude of things, most importantly get people tied into the Play Store. For Apple, they need to profit at every turn, because they’re culpable for every line item on their balance sheet.

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Advice that resonates

Finding out what Google wanted to be when it grew up meant Page figuring out who he wanted to be when he grew up. Eric Schmidt knew he was “adult supervision” while Larry and Sergey came of age, and that suited him just fine. It was a smart move by the founders, who knew they couldn’t grasp the entirety of what Google was becomming.

Now that we’re in a space where Page is moving Google along admirably, tying services together all the while, the advice Jobs gave resonating throughout. Getting rid of what isn’t needed is a tough thing to do, but once you combine what is desirable into a cohesive unit, the fog lifts. Google will never be Apple, but a few valuable lessons have been learned along the way. Our gripe has always been that Google isn’t more cohesive across brands. As that changes, we’re wise to remember what Jobs told Page, just like Larry probably does.

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