In my analysis of the events surrounding James Damore’s now infamous Google memo, I stated that what had happened could be explained by the premise that Google holds diversity as a core value, where as Damore holds individual merit as a core value, and believes that Google’s approach to ensuring diversity is antithetical to meritocracy. I’m going to ignore the issue of whether Damore is right or not. Instead, I want to apply the concept of core values as described in the business book “Built to Last”, written by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in 1994 to examine Google more deeply.
Chapter 4 of the book bears the title “Preserve the Core/Stimulate Progress”. Built to Last, like Collins’s book “Good to Great”, studies a set of companies–in this case, chosen by a survey as ‘great’–with a set of similar companies, one for each of the great companies, that were not considered great. Preserve the Core/Stimulate Progress is the fourth of a series of practices found in most or all of the great companies, and in few or none of the comparisons. Thomas Watson of IBM states the principle succinctly:
If an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself. The only sacred cow should be its basic philosophy of doing business.
There are two questions regarding a company’s core values:
- Are they truly the company’s core values? i.e. Does the company consistently follow them?
- Will they lead to sustained results?
With that in mind, I’m going to examine Google’s Ten Thing’s We Know to be True. Oddly, diversity is nowhere to be found on the list of ten things, yet from the statements made by Google management, they certainly seem to hold it as a core value. Here are the ten things:
- Focus on the user and all else will follow.
- It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
- Fast is better than slow.
- Democracy on the web works.
- You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
- You can make money without doing evil.
- There’s always more information out there.
- The need for information crosses all borders.
- You can be serious without a suit.
- Great just isn’t good enough.
It’s hard to see how doing one thing is still a core value. Google is into cell phones, self driving cars, and augmented reality. Are all the things Google is now investing in truly driven by the power of search?
Since Google started to allow its search results to be modified on ideological grounds, its core value of democracy on the web seems at risk of falling by the wayside. I see more and more YouTubers talking about the need for alternative platforms and search engines. For example: Breaking Free: 6 Alt-Tech Services You Should Use. I understand that preventing incitement to violence is necessary, but Google’s current practices have conservatives saying that Google is the worlds biggest censor and its power must be regulated.
I’d say Google’s value of being a more complete source of information is at risk too. Censoring information goes against the principle of providing more information.
Kudos to Google are in order for pulling out of China, rather than bowing to government demands to censor information, as Apple has.
If Damore is right, and Google’s diversity policies are hurting meritocracy, it’s also hard to see how greatness can still be a core value at Google. But is he right? Are diversity and meritocracy antithetical? Google has become the test case that will answer this question.
Personally I believe that excellence comes from surrounding yourself with the best, and the best way I know to do that is to hire individuals on their merit, regardless of gender or race. At the same time, people who don’t hold your core values will not be able to perform in your company, and therefore won’t be able to achieve greatness. So the question remains: will the core value of diversity lead to continued great results, or not? So far, Google has been enormously successful. Time will tell if they remain great, or fall from grace.