In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives
by Steven Levy
“In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives” by Steven Levy provides interesting insight into the thinking and culture that drive Google. Levy comes across as a fan, yet reasonably open minded and willing to point out Google’s mistakes – think China.
I didn’t need quite as much information as Levy shared, but I enjoyed the book and came away with a few insights.
Levy repeatedly talks about the stunning intelligence, incredible technical skill, and passion of the people at Google and, frankly, I believe him; however, that leaves me a bit baffled. Given all that brain power, how can it be that some Google products are remarkably mediocre. Google Apps on an iPad is the first example that comes to mind. The recently launched Google Drive is another. Google Buzz could go without saying. Of course, other Google products are astounding.
It was fascinating to see the balance Google achieved in being driven and focused by the unifying force of the founders’ vision while also providing an environment in which people can spend time on whatever they think is most important. It is also interesting to hear specific examples of making decisions based on data. Thinking through these examples would be helpful to a broad range of organizations.
Levy is convinced that Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s Montessori education shaped Google’s culture of letting people focus on what interests them. He also suggests it is responsible for many of their great products and achievements. I will have to consider to what extent I believe that is true for Google and to what extent that could be leveraged at other companies. In “What Is Strategy” Michael Porter makes the point that strategy cannot easily be copied because it must be integrated with many aspects of business and the business model. For example, Porter says Delta can’t just decide to follow Southwest Airlines’ low price strategy without considering impacts to other aspects of their business and customer service model. Could Walmart use a Google-like culture? Could they use it in all areas of their operation? If they used it only in some areas, such as merchandising, would that create other problems?
Overall, “In the Plex” is a good book and worth reading for anyone interested in Google or seeing one way that a “web generation” corporate culture can work.