What Google Can and Can’t Teach Us


Learning Loop

Two recent articles about Google are worth reading. “What Cloud Computing Means To Your Job” appeared in The New York Times business section on November 24. It cites Google, Amazon and Microsoft as companies that are using cloud computing to drive rapid cycle innovation on the web.

The common factor, the article states, is that all three companies rely on cloud computing to move vast amounts of customer data quickly around the world to inform small, loosely-structured teams building dazzling new products and services. Even if you’re not working for Google or Amazon, the article implies your job will evolve in a similar fashion. “People will be more analytical, experimental, faster, more data driven at work,” says Greg DeMichillie, the head of Google’s cloud business.

I agree with him – but with a caveat. As my new book The Leadership Equation points out, cloud data systems and real-time feedback are not enough. Data needs to be converted into learning. One of the keys to building high-performing teams and organizations is “learning loops.” The cloud doesn’t build them. Talented people do.

The second article, by Nicolas Lemann writing for The New Yorker, is titled “When G.M. Was Google.” It also tries to distinguish what is trendy from what is true. He points out that both Google and G.M. are hugely successful companies that scored early big wins that transformed their markets. Their leaders rode the coattails of those wins to trumpet the notion that they had successfully devised new ways to structure their workplaces, capture the spark of innovation, and conquer markets. The reality, says Lemann, is that both companies are fundamentally the same. Both learned that a management structure was necessary to get work done. It’s a useful reminder that management and leadership are like baseball: The game remains fundamentally the same. It still takes great players – and a little luck – to win a pennant.

The New Yorker article is here.

Check out my new book, The Leadership Equation , for 10 practices that build trust, spark innovation, and create a high-performing organization.

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