How Google Works Summary

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 How Google Works shines a light on the hiring and operating processes of Google, which have enabled it to come up with great products continuously and stay visionary over the past 17 years.

After looking into visionary companies yesterday, I have no doubt that Google would have been on this list, had it existed back then.

How Google Works was published in late 2014. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg aim to give readers a peek inside Google’s mind. They lay out lots of rules and principles that Google’s leaders have used to stabilize Google during its rapid growth and keep it innovative.

Here are my 3 takeaways from the summary on Blinkist:

  • Don’t try to inspire, try to attract inspired people.
  • It’s okay if decisions take forever, as long as everyoneagrees once they’re made.
  • Give your employees room to be creative.

Let’s take a look at each one.

Lesson 1: Don’t try to inspire, try to attract inspired people.

Here’s the story: Larry Page saw a Google page with really badly designed ads on it. He printed it out and pinned it on a board in the kitchen and wrote “THESE ADS SUCK” next to it on a Friday evening.

A team of engineers saw the note and decided to tackle the problem – over the weekend. They used their free time to work together and solve this problem, and by Monday, the issue was resolved.

What’s the lesson here?

Inspired employees are more important than inspiring leaders.

Page didn’t give them a great motivational talk about why Google needs these ads to be perfect. He just pointed out a problem and because the engineers were already inspired people, they decided to give it a go.

How do you get inspired employees? By creating the right company culture.

This comes back to your core ideology: What are your values? What’s your purpose? Why do you do things?

Make sure your values are inspiring, and your leaders won’t have to be.

If you have a great set of values, the right kind of people will be attracted to your company. The kind that’s ambitious, not driven by money, and smart.

Google calls them smart creatives.

Lesson 2: Let decisions take forever, but make sure everyone’s happy when they’re made.

The only way to keep those smart, creative and inspired employees, is to treat them as equals when making decisions.

That means sometimes decisions will take a lot of time, but that’s okay, because in the end, employees will always support the final decision.

Smart creatives want to be 100% convinced that the decision is the right choice, so they won’t follow suit if they’re not. For example when Sergey Brin disagreed with an engineer, he suggested half the team should follow him, and half the engineer. Eventually, the entire team followed the engineer, because he had the more convincing solution.

This is actually highly efficient, since everyone will be dedicated to building the solution as best as they can, just because they believe it’s the right way to go.

However, sometimes you do need a decision fast, which is why Google had daily meetings about a deal with AOL in 2002 for six weeks straight. Since it was a pressing issue, they committed to give the decision some time each day, to make sure a consensus was achieved before the deadline.

Lesson 3: Give your employees room to be creative.

In yesterday’s Built To Last summary I hinted at the fact that Google’s 20% time, where employees get to spend 1 day per week on whatever fun little project they want, wasn’t their idea.

However, it’s still a great rule (or was). Hiring creatives is no good when you’re not giving them the room to live that creativity.

But creativity is exactly what’s necessary to produce great ideas and products consistently, so create a company culture that encourages it.

Here are a few ways Google does this:

The cafeteria has great food, and it’s free. This way people can stock up on energy while exchanging with colleagues, which is often where the sparks of creativity fly.

Weekly, company-wide meetings are held, where people can submit questions to the founders beforehand. This encourages everyone to speak their mind.

As seen with 20% time or the decision-making, employees are given a lot of independence. They can make their own decisions and don’t have to be afraid of punishment for doing something their boss doesn’t agree with.

Google gives their employees ambitious challenges and difficult to reach goals, which is just what those smart creatives crave.

10% of their budget goes to experimental projects – no matter if they tank.

So make sure you not only hire creatives, but you also give them the space they need to get the most out of it.

Final thoughts

I first thought this was a boring summary, I’m not gonna lie. But then I looked at what lessons I could take away from it, and when researching around the web a bit I found all these interesting little details behind all these rules and principles.

Lesson 3 is a must of modern company-culture for me already, maybe because I’m a millennial, but lesson 1 was where it’s at. Contrast the ad story with Steve Jobs, talking hours about fonts, and you have a real game changer here.

Hatching Twitter Summary

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Hatching Twitter details the story and human drama behind the creation and meteoric rise of Twitter, the social media platform that’s changed how we communicate over the past ten years.

When did you sign up for Twitter? How long did it take you to get the memo? I feel like I’m one of the last to catch the Twitter train, having signed up in 2013, 7 years after its creation. For the longest time, I found it almost impossible to see the value within all the noise on the platform, and sometimes I still do, so that’s why I hesitated.

But by now, I understand that it’s very much possible to use Twitter in infinitely valuable ways. Spreading news, good or bad, engaging with people in little, but meaningful ways, that take just seconds, not hours and sharing what moves you and others are the core of Twitter’s message.

While that message hasn’t changed much, the team trying to shout it into the world has. A lot. The company’s a decade old now, but it feels like they’ve run through a lifetime worth of employees (especially CEOs) already.

Twitter’s history is messy. It’s human. And there’s a whole lot to learn from it.

Here are 3 lessons from Hatching Twitter:

  • Never hire your friends.
  • Always hire your friends.
  • Make better mistakes tomorrow.

Ready to learn from a backstage tour of one of the world’s most valuable and popular companies? Time to tweet away!

Lesson 1: Never hire your friends.

There are four people, who majorly shaped the creation of Twitter both on the idea and implementation-end and should be considered as its founders: Ev Williams, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Noah Glass.

Ev Williams created Blogger (yes, the one owned by Google), after the sale of which he befriended Noah Glass, his neighbor at the time. Ev eventually funded and advised Noah in starting Odeo, an early podcasting startup, in 2005. Biz was hired because he was a former employee of Ev’s at Blogger and Jack because of his creativity.

All four of them become really good friends, but work and friendship don’t mix, which lead to multiple fallouts. Noah’s chaotic work habits led to Ev taking over the CEO position of Odeo, with Noah getting kicked out entirely after blabbing about Twitter before it was even launched.

Once it picked up steam in 2007, and it was clear that Odeo would lose the podcasting game to Apple, the power struggles about Twitter got even worse. Since Jack originally proposed the status update idea, and he and Biz built the first prototype, he was the first CEO, again being replaced – and fired – by Ev in 2008 due to internal fights.

Jack never revealed this publicly, instead using his silent board seat to secretly recruit allies and oust Ev in 2011, to put his friend Dick Costolo in the CEO seat – until taking it back for himself in 2015.

As a result, Twitter has struggled for years to become a) profitable and b) sustain its growth. If you’re trying to build a successful business, never hire your friends. It’s a huge mess.

Lesson 2: Always hire your friends.

Wait, didn’t I just say the opposite? Yes, and this is the crux of the matter: both of these statements are true. You’d think that it’s amazing that Twitter has gotten so big despite all of these friendship quarrels. But it’s not despite that they all were friends.

It’s because of it.

Had Twitter been invented by one guy who then would’ve just hired strangers to build it, it might’ve been a bigger financial success a lot sooner. But if what you’re building is important enough, the idea will outlive any human failure. It will make it into the world regardless, and once it’s gotten past that initial stage its history will continue to be written – with or without you.

The only way for Twitter to take its first breath (and make its first tweet) though, was for these four people to work together. Ev had the money and the experience, Jack the idea, Biz the calm resolve needed to get it out the door and Noah the kind of crazy passion that gave it its name (he looked through tons of dictionary to find “twitter – give a call consisting of repeated light tremulous sounds – the sound certain birds make”).

Therefore, you should always hire your friends, because it’s a good indicator that what you’re building is so important that it’s impossible for you to do it alone or with strangers. Great ideas will always entail great risk and that includes the risk of losing your best friend.

Lesson 3: Make better mistakes tomorrow.

When Dick Costolo set Twitter straight for revenue growth, taking it to the stock market, and turning it into a “proper” company, that included a move to a bigger, more professional office.

One of the souvenirs he sadly left behind (on purpose) was a big sign that read “Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow.” It had hung upside down inside Twitter’s office and had been one of Ev’s favorites. Twitter’s worldly success did grow significantly under Dick’s lead, but right now, this kind of commitment to creativity is exactly what Twitter is missing (let’s hope Jack brings it back).

Ironing out all of your mistakes is impossible. Intolerance of mistakes is a futile effort that’ll only get you frustrated. Humans will always make mistakes. You don’t have to make them on purpose, but promising to make better mistakes tomorrow is a commitment to improvement over perfection. Acknowledge mistakes as part of the deal, but also never stop making progress.

Sounds like the attitude of four friends building a company. We need more of that.

My personal take-aways

In-sight-ful. That’s how I’d like to describe this book. Fascinating. I don’t think there’s a single company with an “easy” history, but the bigger it gets, the more twisted the story. Twitter sure seems like an extreme outlier, but maybe power struggles like these are a lot more common than you think.

An interesting read.

Alibaba’s World Summary

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Alibaba’s World is an inside look at one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies from one of its first Western employees, who served as its vice president and head of international marketing for several years, showing how this company turned from startup to global player in just 15 years.

It must have been two years ago. My friend Paul and I were sitting on the back porch at my parents’ house on a warm fall evening. He’d brought some pecan nuts we were snacking on, which are hard to come by in Germany, and I said: “You know what? It really sucks you can’t get these anywhere here, only in very small quantities in exclusive shops at insane prices. I wonder why retailers don’t stock them, like they do with peanuts, walnuts, etc.”

We realized there might be an opportunity and next thing I know, we’re on my laptop and Paul types in “” I had never heard of the site before, but for the next two days, I spent tons of time on there, looking at wholesale prices for importing Pecan nuts, and I couldn’t believe how much you could get there for how little money. I even called German officials to find out how much Pecan nuts you can import without running into tons of red tape and legal problems (it’s 300 kg, I think).

Because we didn’t have the money to invest, we ultimately scrapped this project (and by now German retailers do stock Pecan nuts at cheaper prices), but launching an Alibaba-based business has intrigued me ever since.

This book tells the story of how this little pre-dot-com crash startup turned into a global e-commerce player in just 15 years, landing the biggest IPO in history.

Here are my 3 favorite lessons:

  • Don’t let your goals create artificial limits for you, play with what’s possible instead.
  • Build for the long term.
  • Center your business around one key customer insight at a time, that fits the market well.

Saying “open sesame” didn’t work? Then it’s time to roll up your sleeves like Jack Ma did and do it yourself!

Lesson 1: Don’t artificially limit yourself by setting too unambitious goals, test what’s possible instead.

The founder of, Jack Ma, has not only never written a line of code, he also didn’t even own a computer until he was 33 years old. In fact, before starting Alibaba, he struggled in most of his jobs. Having failed his college entry exams three times and working as an English teacher after eventually graduating, he heard about the internet by coincidence in 1994.

Seeing how it offered little to no information for and about China, he started putting together websites with his friends, eventually making a decent living building corporate websites. However, until 1999, when founding Alibaba, he had never run his own before. What’s more, only 1% of the Chinese population had internet access, and none of these people were buying things online, because they didn’t trust the system yet.

But Jack didn’t choose to see those things. He didn’t focus on Google, or eBay, or his lack of knowledge. He chose to see a potential market of one billion customers.

If you lowball all of your goals, you’re cutting yourself short. Shoot for the moon, dare to test the limits of what’s possible, try to go beyond them. Even if the rest of the world doesn’t see a new reality yet, if you do, you might bring just what the world needs to make it happen.

Lesson 2: Build your business for the long term. Go for 80 years, not 80 months.

There are many things you can screw up when launching a business. One of the most common ones is setting the wrong time horizon. You’d be surprised how many founders don’t even plan for the next six months, focusing just on the next few weeks at a time. Others plan on a big exit 2-4 years down the line, which is better, but still not right.

If you plan to take on something as crazy as building a great company, which takes all of your energy, time, your blood, sweat and tears, how could you not make it the goal of a lifetime?

Jack Ma decided right from the get-go that he wanted Alibaba to be around for at least 80 years. A goal he later even increased to 102 years. Wanting to build something that lasts a lifetime drastically changes your day-to-day decisions. No more short-term gimmicks, no more quick fixes, no more hacks.

Only this extreme long-term focus allowed Jack to postpone the company’s IPO, start by offering free services and not give in to investors’ demands to re-name it (like Yahoo! wanted to).

Don’t build for tomorrow. Or next year. Or for the exit five years down the line. Build for the long run.

Lesson 3: Find a key customer insight that’s a good fit for your market and center your business around that.

Because Jack Ma knew so little about the field he was entering, he was free to test new things and not bound by perceived limitations. However, this also meant he had to find out what his customers wanted first.

After trying several ways to become profitable that didn’t work, like investing and partnerships, he eventually found his key customer insight to build upon: people had to learn how to place trust in someone they’ve never met, in order to be comfortable buying from them.

He then built the business around this insight, focusing on getting Alibaba verified and implementing features like live, 1-on-1 chat for buyers and sellers on TaoBao (Alibaba’s C2C eBay competitor).

You can go one customer insight at a time, taking little steps and thus making sure that each insight is compatible with your market (for example TaoBao is also free to use at first, because Chinese customers want to try something before committing to it).

That’s how you stay focused and make sure you build success upon success.

My personal take-aways It must’ve been interesting to work in an entirely Chinese environment as a Westerner for Porter Erisman, the author of this book. Viewing Alibaba’s story through his inside, yet outside lens gives it just

Buy this book

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