Aug 11, 2015
I visited Google a few weeks ago and, after almost getting arrested, my mind was blown.
First, Claudia wandered into the garage where they were actually making or fixing the driverless cars. When they finally realized she was wandering around, security had to escort her out.
We got scared and we thought we were going to get in trouble or thrown out.
Then we met with a friend high up at Google and learned some of the things Google was working on.
Nothing was related to search. Everything was related to curing cancer (a bracelet that can make all the cancer cells in your body move towards the bracelet), automating everything (cars just one of those things), Wi-Fi everywhere (Project Loon) and solving other “billion person problems”.
A problem wasn’t considered worthy unless it could solve a problem for a billion people.
So now Alphabet is aligning itself towards this strategy: a holding company that owns and invests in other companies that can solve billion person problems.
It’s not divided up by money. It’s divided up by mission.
I want to do this in my personal life also.
Just analyzing Larry Page’s quotes from the past ten years is a guidebook for “billion person success” and for personal success.
Here are some of his quotes (in bold):
“If you’re changing the world, you’re working on important things. You’re excited to get up in the morning.”
To have well-being in life you need three things: A) a feeling of competence or growth. B) good emotional relationships. C) freedom of choice.
Being able to wake up excited in the morning is an outcome of well-being.
Feeling like every day you are working on a billion-person problem will give you those three aspects of well-being.
At the very least, when I wake up I try to remember to ask: Who can I help today?
Because I’m a superhero and this is my secret identity.
“Especially in technology, we need revolutionary change, not incremental change.”
Too often we get stuck in “good enough”. If you build a business that supports your family and maybe provides for retirement then that is “good enough”.
If you write a book that sells 1000 copies then that is “good enough.”
You ever wonder why planes have gotten slower since 1965? The Dreamliner 787 is actually slower than the 747.
That’s ok. It’s good enough to get people across the world and save on fuel costs.
It’s only the people who push past the “good enough syndrome” that we hear about: Elon Musk building a space ship. Larry Page indexing all knowledge. Elizabeth Holmes potentially diagnosing all diseases with a pin prick.
Isaac Asimov wrote classic science fiction like “The Foundation Series” but it wasn’t good enough for him. He ended up writing 500 more books, writing more books than anyone in history.
Larry Page keeps pushing so that every day he wakes up knowing he’s going to go past “good enough” that day.
What does your “good enough” day look like. What’s one thing that moves you past that?
“My job as a leader is to make sure everybody in the company has great opportunities, and that they feel they’re having a meaningful impact and are contributing to the good of society.”
Whenever I’ve managed companies and have had the small opportunity to be a leader I’ve judged my success on only one thing:
Does the employee at night go home and call his or her parents and say, “guess what I did today!”
I’m not sure this always worked. But I do think Larry Page lifts all his employees to try to be better versions of themselves, to try to surpass him, to try and change the world.
If each employee can say, “who did I help today” and have an answer, then that is a good leader.
Empowering others, empowers you.
“Lots of companies don’t succeed over time. What do they fundamentally do wrong? They usually miss the future.”
The stock market is near all time highs. And yet every company in the original Dow Jones market index (except for GE) has gone out of business.
Even US Steel, which built every building in the country for an entire century, has gone bankrupt.
Never let the practical get in the way of the possible.
It’s practical to focus on what you can do right now.
But give yourself time in your life to wonder what is possible and to make even the slightest moves in that direction.
We’re at maybe 1% of what is possible. Despite the faster change, we’re still moving slow relative to the opportunities we have. I think a lot of that is because of the negativity… Every story I read is Google vs someone else. That’s boring. We should be focusing on building the things that don’t exist.
Sometimes I want to give up on whatever I’m working on. I’m not working on major billion person problems.
And sometimes I think I write too much about the same thing. Every day I try to think, “What new thing can I write today” and I actually get depressed when I can’t think of something totally new.
But I am working on things that I think can help people. And if you are out side of people’s comfort zones, if you are breaking the normal rules of society, people will try to pull you down.
Larry Page didn’t want to be defined by Google for his entire life. He wants to be defined by what he hasn’t yet done. What he might even be afraid to do.
I wonder what my life would be like if I started doing all the things I was afraid to do. If I started defining my life by all the things I have yet to do.
“Many leaders of big organizations, I think, don’t believe that change is possible. But if you look at history, things do change, and if your business is static, you’re likely to have issues.”
Guess which company had the original patent that ultimately Larry Page derived his own patent (that created google) from?
Go ahead. Think a second. Guess.
An employee of this company created the patent and tried to get them to use it to catalog information on the web.
So Robin Li, an employee of The Wall Street Journal, quit the newspaper of capitalism (who owned his patent), moved to China (a communist country), and created Baidu.
And Larry Page modified the patent, filed his own, and created Google.
And the Wall Street Journal got swallowed up by Rupert Murdoch and is dying a slow death.
“I think as technologists we should have some safe places where we can try out new things and figure out the effect on society.”
A friend of mine is writing a novel but is afraid to publish it. “Maybe it will be bad,” he told me.
Fortunately we live in a world where experimentation is easy. You can make a 30 page novel, publish it on Amazon for nothing, use an assumed name, and test to see if people like it.
Heck, I’ve done it. And it was fun.
Mac Lethal is a rapper who has gotten over 200 million views on his YouTube videos. Even Ellen had him on her show to demonstrate his skills.
I asked him, “do you get nervous if one of your videos gets less views than others?”
He told me valuable advice: “Nobody remembers your bad stuff. They only remember your good stuff.”
I live by that.
“If we were motivated by money, we would have sold the company a long time ago and ended up on a beach.”
Larry Page and Sergey Brin wanted to be academics. When they first patented Google, they tried to sell to Yahoo for $1 million (ONE MILLION DOLLARS).
When Yahoo laughed them out the door, they tried to sell to Excite for $750,000.
Excite laughed them out the door. Now an ex-employee of Google is the CEO of Yahoo. And the founder of Excite works at Google. Google dominates.
Money is a side effect of trying to help others. Trying to solve problems. Trying to move beyond the “good enough”.
So many people ask: “how do I get traffic?” That’s the wrong question.
If you ask every day, “How did I help people today?” then you will have more traffic and money than you could have imagined.
“Invention is not enough. Tesla invented the electric power we use, but he struggled to get it out to people. You have to combine both things: invention and innovation focus, plus the company that can commercialize things and get them to people.”
Everyone quotes the iconic story of Thomas Edison “failing” 10,000 times to get the electric lightbulb working.
I put failing in quotes because he was doing what any scientist does. He does many experiments until one works.
But what he did that was truly remarkable was convince New York City a few weeks later to light up their downtown using his lights.
The first time ever a city was lit up at night with electricity.
That’s innovation. That’s how the entire world got lit up.
“If you say you want to automate cars and save people’s lives, the skills you need for that aren’t taught in any particular discipline. I know – I was interested in working on automating cars when I was a Ph.D. student in 1995.”
Too often we get labeled by our degree and our job titles. Larry Page and Elon Musk were computer science majors. Now they build cars and space ships.
David Chang was a competitive golfer as a kid, majored in religious studies in college, and then had random gopher jobs in his 20s.
The gopher jobs all happened to be in restaurants so he became familiar with how the business was run.
Then he started probably the most popular restaurant in NYC, momofoku. A dozen or so restaurants later, he is one of the most successful restauranteurs in history.
Peter Thiel worked as a lawyer in one of the top law firms in NY. When he quit in order to become an entrepreneur, he told me that many of his colleagues came up to him and said, “I can’t believe you are escaping”.
Escaping the labels and titles and hopes that everyone else has for us is one of the first steps in Choosing Ourselves for the success we are meant to have.
We define our lives from our imagination and the things we create with our hands.
“It really matters whether people are working on generating clean energy or improving transportation or making the Internet work better and all those things. And small groups of people can have a really huge impact.”
What I love about this quote is that he combines big problems with small groups.
A small group of people created Google. Not Procter & Gamble. Or AT&T.
Even at Apple, when Steve Jobs wanted to create the Macintosh, he moved his small group to a separate building so they wouldn’t get bogged down in the big corporate bureaucracy that Apple was becoming.
Ultimately, they fired him for being too far from the corporate message.
Years later, when Apple was failing, they brought him back. What did he do? He cut most of the products and put people into small groups to solve big problems.
Before his death he revolutionized the movie industry, the computer industry, the music industry, TVs, and now even watches (watch sales have plummeted after the release of the Apple Watch).
All of this from a guy who finished one semester of studying calligraphy in college before dropping out.
Studying the history of Apple is like studying a microcosm of the history of how to create big ideas. Larry Page is recreating this with his new corporate structure.
“We don’t have as many managers as we should, but we would rather have too few than too many.”
The 20th century was the century of middle-class corporatism. It even became a “law” called “The Peter Principle” – everyone rises to their level of incompetence.
One of the problems society is having now is that the entire middle layer of management is being demoted, outsourced, replaced by technology, and fired.
This is not a bad or a good thing (although it’s scary). But it’s a return to the role of masters and apprentices without bureaucracy and paperwork in the middle.
It’s how things get done. When ideas go from the head into action with few barriers in the middle.
To be a successful employee, you have to align your interests with those of the company, come up with ideas that further help the customers, and have the mandate to act on those ideas, whether they work or not.
That’s why the employee who wrote much of the code inside the Google search engine, Craig Silverstein, is now a billionaire.
Where is he now? He’s an employee at online education company, The Khan Academy.
“If you ask an economist what’s driven economic growth, it’s been major advances in things that mattered – the mechanization of farming, mass manufacturing, things like that. The problem is, our society is not organized around doing that.”
Google is now making advances in driverless cars, delivery drones, and other methods of automation.
Everyone gets worried that this will cost jobs. But just look at history. Cars didn’t ruin the horse industry. Everyone simply adjusted.
TV didn’t replace books. Everything adjusted. The VCR didn’t shut down movies.
The Internet didn’t replace face to face communication (well, the jury is still out).
“What is the one sentence summary of how you change the world? Always work hard on something uncomfortably exciting!”
Not everyone wants to create a driverless car. Or clean energy. Or solve a billion person problem.
But I have a list of things that are uncomfortably exciting to me.
They are small, stupid things. Like I’d like to write a novel. Or perform standup comedy. Or maybe start another business based on my ideas for helping people.
Every day I wake up a tiny bit afraid. But I also try to push myself a little closer in those directions. I know then that’s how I learn and grow.
Sometimes I push forward. Sometimes I don’t. I want to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable.
“I do think there is an important artistic component in what we do. As a technology company I’ve tried to really stress that.”
Nobody knows what the definition of Art is.
How about: something that doesn’t exist except in the imagination, that you then bring out into the real world that has some mix of entertainment, enlightenment, and betterment.
I don’t know. Something like that.
Certainly the iPad is a work of art. And the iPad has created works of art. And when I first saw a driverless car I thought, “that’s beautiful”.
I’m going to try and put my fingerprint on something today. And maybe it will be art.
“The idea that everyone should slavishly work so they do something inefficiently so they keep their job – that just doesn’t make any sense to me. That can’t be the right answer.”
We’ve been hypnotized into thinking that the “normal life” is a “working life”.
If you don’t “go to work” then you must be sick or on the tiny bit of vacation allotted to you each year.
What if everything you did you can inject a little bit of leisure, a little bit of fun into it.
I have fun writing, except when I think I have to meet a deadline (work). I have fun making a business that people actually use except when I think about money too much (work).
When you are at the crossroads and your heart loves one path and doesn’t love the other, forget about which path has the money and the work, take the path you love.
“We want to build technology that everybody loves using, and that affects everyone. We want to create beautiful, intuitive services and technologies that are so incredibly useful that people use them twice a day. Like they use a toothbrush. There aren’t that many things people use twice a day.”
What a great idea for a list of the day!
What are ten things that can be invented that people would use twice a day?
“You need to invent things and you need to get them to people. You need to commercialize those inventions. Obviously, the best way we’ve come up with doing that is through companies.”
I was speaking to Naveen Jain, who made his billions on an early search engine, InfoSpace.
He just started a company to mine rare earth minerals on the Moon.
But his real goal is extra-planetary colonization.
Somehow we got around to the question of why have a company in the middle of that. He has billions. He can just go straight for the colonization part.
He said, “Every idea has to be sustainable. Profitability is proof that an idea is sustainable.”
“You may think using Google’s great, but I still think it’s terrible.”
K. Anders Ericsson made famous the “10,000 hour rule” popularized later by Malcom Gladwell.
The rule is: if you practice WITH INTENT for 10,000 hours then you will be world-class.
He then wondered why typists would often reach a certain speed level and then never improve no matter how many hours.
After doing research, its because they forgot the “With intent” part. They were satisfied with “good enough”.
You have to constantly come up with new metrics to measure yourself, to compete against yourself, to better the last plateau you reached.
Google is great. But it can be better. Having this mindset always forces you to push beyond the comfort zone.
Once they changed the way typists viewed their skills (by recreating the feeling of “beginner’s mind”) the typists continued to get faster.
“We have a mantra: don’t be evil, which is to do the best things we know how for our users, for our customers, for everyone. So I think if we were known for that, it would be a wonderful thing.”
Many people argue whether or not Google has succeeded at this. That’s not the point.
The point is: Values before Money.
A business is a group of people with a goal to solve a problem. Values might be: we want to solve a problem, we want the customer to be happy, we want employees to feel like they have upward mobility, etc.
Once you lose your values, you’ll lost the money as well. This why family-run businesses often die by the third generation (“Shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations).
The values of the founder got diluted through his descendants until the company failed.
I spoke to Dick Yuengling about this (CEO of the largest independent beer maker and a fifth generation business).
His family found an interesting way to solve the problem. The business is not inherited. Each generation has to BUY the business from the generation before it.
To do that, each generation needs its own values, its new way of doing things that keeps the brand fresh and ongoing.
“I think it is often easier to make progress on mega-ambitious dreams. Since no one else is crazy enough to do it, you have little competition. In fact, there are so few people this crazy that I feel like I know them all by first name.”
Our parents have our best interests at heart and tell us how to be good adults.
Our schools have our best interests.
Our friends, colleagues, sometimes our bosses, sometimes government, think they have our best interests.
But it’s only when everyone thinks you are crazy that you know you are going to create something that surprises everyone and really makes your own unique handprint on the world.
And because you went out of the comfort zone, you’re only competing against the few other people as crazy as you are.
“You know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night with a vivid dream? And you know that if you don’t have a pencil and pad by the bed, it will be completely gone by the next morning. Sometimes it’s important to wake up and stop dreaming. When a really great dream shows up, grab it.”
For every article I’ve ever written, there’s at least ten more I left behind in the middle of the night thinking I would remember in the morning.
I have to beat myself in the head. I . Will. Not. Remember….Must. Write. Down.
It’s hard to wake up. And that’s the only thing worth remembering. It’s hard to wake up.
“I have always believed that technology should do the hard work – discovery, organization, communication – so users can do what makes them happiest: living and loving, not messing with annoying computers! That means making our products work together seamlessly.”
This is a deep question – who are you? If you have a mechanical hand, is that “you”?
Conversely, if you lose a hand, did you lose a part of you. Are you no longer a complete person? The complete you?
If an implant is put into your brain to access Google, does that effect who you view your self to be?
When books were invented, memory suffered. We no longer had to remember as much, because we can look things up.
Does that make our brains less human?
I bet memory has suffered with the rise of Google. Does this mean our consciousness has suffered?
When we created fire, we outsourced part of our digestion to this new invention. Did this make our stomachs less human?
With technology taking care of the basic tasks of our brain and body, it allows us to achieve things we couldn’t previously dream possible.
It allows us to learn and explore and to create past the current comfort zone. It allows us to find the happiness, freedom, and well-being we deserve.
“Over time, our emerging high-usage products will likely generate significant new revenue streams for Google as well as for our partners, just as search does today.”
This is it. This is why Larry Page has re-oriented Google into Alphabet.
Don’t waste your most productive energies solving a problem that now only has incremental improvements.
Re-focus the best energies on solving harder and harder problems.
Always keeping the value of “how can I help a billion people” will keep Google from becoming a Borders bookstore (which went out of business after outsourcing all of their sales to Amazon).
How does this apply to the personal?
Instead of being a cog in the machine for some corporation, come up with ways to automate greater abundance.
Always understand that coming up with multiple ways to help people is ultimately the way to create the biggest impact.
Impact then creates health, friendship, competence, abundance, and freedom.
Oh my god, this answer is too long. And believe it or not, I cut it in half.
If I can just wake up every day and remind myself of these quotes by Larry Page I know I will have a better life.
But this is also why he created Alphabet and put Google underneath it.
To save the world. To save me.