Intelligent generosity, Googliness, and a broken laptop power cord

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at the meetup
meetupnyc1
Registration for the Google New York City Top Contributor meet-up

There’s nothing like waking up in a small hotel room to a bang. If any of you have been to New York City, you know that “normal” hotel rooms there are smaller than normal elsewhere. In my case, there wasn’t a proper place to put my laptop, but there was a bit of room (I thought) on the reasonably normal-sized bed. Alas, the computer, resting there, could not compete with my body and the crash I heard on waking up was it falling hard on its size against the wall, power cord squeezed to oblivion.

I didn’t know if significant internal damage had been done on my ancient MacBook Pro. So I accepted that, if I dared to use the computer, I might end up with a dead battery and ability to retrieve documentation, at least until I could get to a service centre or  implement back-up with a new machine. But these things take time, and there wasn’t much time to waste. I had to attend day two of the Google conference/meetup for help forum for voluntary Top Contributors and Rising Stars. No blog posting, however; probably one of only a few missed days since starting this blog in 2006.

Specifics within Google events are covered within company non-disclosure agreements, so I won’t go into the event’s exact magnitude, numbers and other details that might give away corporate secrets. However, we can talk about things that are in the public domain, and here Googliness and intelligent generosity come into the picture.

I can’t reproduce the specific Googliness definition provided during the meet-up (darn NDA — and broken laptop meant I couldn’t take detailed notes) — but Jens Meiret wrote these observations last year:

The words “googley” and “googliness” (sometimes also spelled “googly” and “googleyness”) are not to be found in common language. They are almost magical words however. Even at Google, where they’ve been coined, it’s not clear to everyone what these words mean though. And that’s no surprise: You don’t get a handout with a description, and googliness has indeed more than one meaning.

Here’s my own interpretation of what it means to be googley. What qualifies me to give one? Apart from having worked at Google for more than five years, I got to work with a few extraordinarily googley people who’ve been at Google for many more years, some of who paid special attention to teaching their protégés googliness. In my career at Google I too have then tried to inspire googliness, mostly by leading by example. Whether I succeeded (my personality can interfere with my intentions) is on others to judge, but I’ll give myself the credit of working much on it. The idea of googliness made me love Google, and made me love going to work.

Googliness means:

  1. Doing the right thing. That obviously includes not doing anything that harms someone else, or that puts somebody at a disadvantage.
  2. Striving for excellence. Mediocrity is not googley. At Google, unsurprisingly, you find the desire for excellence right at the core, reflected by the goal to “do one thing really, really well.”
  3. Keeping an eye on the goals. Googliness means being focused, and striking a balance between short-term and long-term objectives.
  4. Being proactive. Google’s Code of Conduct says “if something is broken, fix it.” But being proactive also means anticipating moves ahead of time so to take action preemptively. And, of course, being proactive also applies to the business itself—how can we go further, what can we do to get there? Seen from another angle, then, what being proactive doesn’t mean is waiting (beyond reason) for others to make something happen.
  5. Going the extra mile. This is mostly found in the detail. It’s my favorite googley skill. Take the following example: Someone emails you for a project change. Such updates may normally be filed through a request management system. One response: asking the requester to file the request through said system. Another, more googley response: filing the request himself, and sending the requester a status update at the earliest convenience. The difference this makes is huge, yet it’s easily overlooked.
  6. Doing something nice for others, with no strings attached. Being googley means thinking about and doing something for others, and not necessarily expecting something in return.
  7. Being friendly and approachable. Google is famous for being friendly and open; it’s googley to be friendly and open. This account dates back before my time but I believe Googlers were at some point explicitly encouraged to just join co-workers they didn’t know for lunch, to talk to and get to know them. That certainly rings googley. Similarly, the most successful managers at Google maintain “open door” policies; it’s googley to be that approachable.
  8. Valuing users and colleagues. It’s googley (and something Google “knows to be true”) to put the user first, and similarly to help a co-worker. It’s not googley to let either down.
  9. Rewarding great performance. Hard work, though not listed here, is googley. But hard work, and good work as mentioned, should also be rewarded. Rewards can (and do at Google) take many forms: endorsing notes to managers, kudos, shout-outs in meetings, monetary rewards, &c.
  10. Being humble, and letting go of the ego (at least sometimes). It’s okay to talk about achievements, but it’s not googley to boast (which can be a fine line). Being googley means thinking of the users, the company, the team, and then oneself. That’s accompanied by the belief that everything else, including rewards and promotions, will follow.
  11. Being transparent, honest, and fair. Non-transparency, dishonesty, unfairness, also secrecy are inherently ungoogley.
  12. Having a sense of humor. It’s not googley to oppose play. (Notice the number of and great efforts behind Google’s hoaxes, jokes, and easter eggs in this regard.)

As you can see, there’s a lot to being googley. And you can tell why the idea of googliness is so wonderful: We notice when people are being googley, and we always wish the others who aren’t were, at least a little.

(Please read Meiret’s posting comments for other perspectives, several of which dump a healthy dash of cold water on this stuff.)

Now, we correlate “Googliness” with Adam Grant’s concepts about give and take — that givers can be on the bottom or top of the pecking order. Not-so-smart givers often end up at the bottom of the power structure, becoming suckers for the takers. Intelligent givers know how to match giving with common-sense and avoid being taken for a ride by the “takers”, yet they aren’t seeking quid-pro-quo, or correlating directly their giving with expectations of rewards; they give sincerely, but manage their time and, if they sense they are repeatedly being taken advantage of by “takers”, they will back off, rather than be abused. They generally build successful teams and relationships, and end up with exceptional success.

“Takers” and “Matchers” find their own place, usually in the middle.

Intelligent generosity certainly has a vital role in marketing; sharing in the community, offering real help to potential and current clients, treating employees with respect, all help provide the good-will and reputational foundation that build your brand.  So you reap the rewards, through enhanced collaboration and the reciprocity principle.

Google staff have concluded that individuals who volunteer, help and support others on their various product help-forums generally fit the qualifications for “googliness” and intelligent generosity — and so the company has decided to allocate significant budget resources for encouraging and nurturing this group of “power users.”

(I spent the afternoon after the program concluded with a “Rising Star” who focuses on Google’s Nexus phone product and happens to live in the Ottawa area.. He tells me thought he was being spammed originally when Google invited him to join the NYC meet-up, then discovered the adventure was quite real.  We took the subway to view the World Trade Center area before returning to the airport for our late evening flight.)

Finally, back home, close to midnight, I looked at my battered laptop and discovered that I wouldn’t need to purchase a new machine. I took some pliers, removed the broken power cord connection from the slot, and plugged in back-up cord — and this old computer works. Of course, this workhorse Apple product has nothing to do with Google. I won’t need to purchase another laptop for a while.

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