When you think about Google, what disappoints you the most?

reading time 3 min

My reply to:


My answer was a 17-part megatweet. I’ve collected them here and done a little editing.

Wow, you folks are missing the big picture.

There are 4 fundamental problems which explain the core problems that lead to all the things mentioned by tweets so far:

1. A corporate culture built to ignore the big problems

When Eric Schmidt was CEO, he used to always say “increased revenue fixes all problems”. This is true for a startup: you can’t fix a problem without the funds to do it. Often a problem can’t be fixed until the revenue from a new customer enables it.

However he kept saying that even when it lead to a toxic culture of ignoring problems because revenue is increasing.

Raise a real problem? The response was “shut up… revenue is increasing, it must not be a problem: why are you whining?”

People that raised issues around Real Names, Shutting down APIs/products without enough warning, etc. etc. were classified as “chicken littles” and structurally ignored.

(In their defense, if an executive identified one of these problems it would get fixed with the full force of Google. This makes me think what was really going on was that it was the executive layer’s job to identify problems and delegate the remediation to others. However if you don’t communicate that to people, then “the others” will identify problems and be confused when they’re told “get back to your REAL job”)

2. An inherent inability to aggressively compete

When Larry became CEO, his strategy was to boldly create new markets with products only Google could create because of their unique technical size. Larry would add “best of all there’s no competition there!”

While this was a brilliant game-changer for the industry (Google X), it breeds a culture that doesn’t know how to deal with competition.

Contrast this to Microsoft where there is a culture of knowing the competition so well that you can deliver, deliver, deliver and and beat the competition. Wanna learn how MS did it? Read Chapman’s excellent (but horribly mis-titled) book. A better title would have been “How Microsoft beats everyone and continues to do so”.

3. Toxic efficency makes for bad customer support

An emphasis on efficiency that became toxic. I could tell 100 stories of brilliant ways that Google is more efficient, and creates virtuous circles that drive efficiency in everything they do.

Some day MBA textbooks will be written about this. Other companies need 10x the staffing or resources to do what Google does.

However this becomes toxic when they over-do it.

Rather than wanting customer support to not be needed for a product (a good ideal… all products should aspire to that!) becomes an executive mandate against creating customer support channels as if that would somehow enable developers to make worse products.

The customer support Google does provide seems like it can’t be too useful or executives will notice it exists.

4. Rewarding “new” over “improved”

Want a raise? Start a new product, don’t make an old product better. Only losers fix problems.

Heck, GFS 5.0 was followed by “Colossus 1.0” because calling it GFS 6.0 wouldn’t have impressed the people that decide raises/promotions.

Now you understand why there are a zillion google chat platforms instead of one good one.

Ta da

I haven’t been an employee for 6 years so I assume a lot of this has changed. Heck, they have a new CEO, org structure, etc. How could it not change?

If anyone from Google would like to explain the current state of affairs I’m all ears.

That’s my time. Thank you for listening to my TEDx talk.

Tom Limoncelli

Tom Limoncelli

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