One of the first case studies I read on the MBA programme was “Keeping Google “Googley”” and I thought to myself, this is the corporate equivalent of Alice in Wonderland! How could an organisation function so far removed from reality? But that was my reality-the world of banking and bureaucracy-in a time when the world was emerging from the recession. A few weeks later I learned an important lesson (and my MBA peers are going to hate me for this): “My world is not your world”.
Fast forward six months and I was granted the amazing opportunity to work on an MBA consulting project for Google within their Online Partnerships Group (OPG). The project was due to kick-off in Dublin the day after St. Patrick’s day. It’s been a dream of mine to experience Ireland on St. Paddy’s day, and Google duly obliged by flying us in two days earlier to enjoy the weekend festivities. At this point I was already enamoured with them and I fell deeper into the rabbit hole over the next three days.
We met our project sponsor who took us on a tour of the buildings to meet all the stakeholders. I won’t go into details of the amazing facilities there are, Google is quite modest in that sense. The gourmet food though is all its hyped up to be-complete with on-demand ice-cream machines.
What most stood out for me was the culture, the sheer “Googleyness” of it all. Everyone we met was cheery and helpful (in addition to being ludicrously good looking). We were told over and over again that they strived for continuous improvements, to the point where they would not mind working themselves out of a job (and into a new role of course). This is naturally any organisations dream: employees who are so committed to excellence that they become the living embodiment of their organisation and it’s progress. It helps that Google recruits incredibly diverse and talented people; at our presentation for instance a former NASA engineer sat next to an Olympic Judo champion.
So the pressure was on: what could five MBAs do in four weeks to change an institution like Google. Our project centred on measuring impact in the online space and several non-disclosure’s agreement later my lips are sealed on the exact nature of the project which involved researching and capturing an untapped █████████ opportunity to pitch advertising as a revenue source for the █████████ segment of the internet. But I can reveal the biggest value of MBA projects is not only the exact content but the wider experience and opportunity to practise outside of a textbook. The fantastic global client range of Cambridge MBA projects is just a bonus. Here’s what I learnt (much of which came from my amazing teammates):
- The why: Whenever you’re in consulting or indeed solving any problem, always ask yourself why. Why have I made this statement, and how does it add value. Why is this important, why would the client care about this. I found that to be one of the most useful tools to keep a structured approach.
- Cheerleaders welcome: A cheerleader is important! You’re a day away from the final delivery, its 3am and you’re still at the clients office (and because its Google you seriously consider just staying for the night in one of the sleep pods). It is hugely valuable to have that person to remind you that everything you have done thus far has been great, that all we need to do is convey the message.
- Face to face is best: Virtual meetings do not work; there is no substitute for human interaction. We tried having remote team meetings, but it just did not feel right, silence over Google Hangout or Skype seems somehow wasteful compared to thoughtful silence in person. You don’t get the same level of excitement at pitching an idea to a laptop screen. Storming, norming and forming require personal interaction. (That’s 2 management practice references)
- Primary research sucks: No one has time to answer a survey and that’s why you have to get creative in sourcing your research. There is a fine art to stalking: Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, G+, they are all your friends. I know it sounds horrible, but the more you know about someone the more you can feed their ego to evoke a response.
- Toilet stories are great: No really. When I look back and remember why Google is so awesome I will forever remember this: I went to visit the men’s room in the engineering building and there was a poster above the urinal. I never take notice of these, but this one caught my eye. Someone had taken the time to write a brief piece on the perils of using standard charsets when coding, and gave recommendations on specifying the correct ascii, jis and unicode formats. I learnt something in a toilet! Engineers FTW!
So I am officially converted to “Googleyness” and its fantastically idiosyncratic ways. Being part of the Google team for four weeks made me wonder if any workplace environment will ever satisfy me again. There is definitely more to Google than meets the eye but its something so ingrained, so well cultivated that it is never quite possible to put your finger on it.