Key to Google: “Both Larry and Sergey Were Montessori Kids”

(p. 121) [Marissa Mayer] conceded that to an outsider, Google’s new-business process might indeed look strange. Google spun out projects like buckshot, blasting a spray and using tools and measurements to see what it hit. And sometimes it did try ideas that seemed ill suited or just plain odd. Finally she burst out with her version of the corporate Rosebud. “You can’t understand Google,” she said, “unless you know that both Larry and Sergey were Montessori kids.”
“Montessori” refers to schools based on the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician born in 1870 who believed that children should be allowed the freedom to pursue what interested them.
(p. 122) “It’s really ingrained in their personalities,” she said. “To ask their own questions, do their own things. To disrespect authority. Do something because it makes sense, not because some authority figure told you. In Montessori school you go paint because you have something to express or you just want to do it that afternoon, not because the teacher said so. This is really baked into how Larry and Sergey approach problems. They’re always asking ‘Why should it be like that?’ It’s the way their brains were programmed early on.”

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
(Note: bracketed name added.)

To Save Lego, CEO Fired Almost a Third of Workers


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A15) Only 10 years ago, Lego was posting record losses; retailers were backlogged with unsold Lego toys; and it was unclear whether Lego would survive as an independent company. An internal review discovered that 94% of the sets in its product line were unprofitable. The turnaround story that followed is well told by Wharton professor David Robertson in “Brick by Brick.”
. . .
Upon coming to power, Mr. Knudstorp cut 30% of Lego’s product portfolio, including many of its newer offerings. To stave off financial doom, he also sold the company’s headquarters building and moved into simpler accommodations–and, more painfully, let go almost a third of the workforce.
But how to move beyond the rescue stage and toward growth? Based on input from top retailers and a large customer-research study, Lego executives concluded that even though young fans of buildable toys were a minority, there were enough of them to make a worthwhile market–and their parents were willing to pay premium prices. The company would now organize its innovation efforts around its potentially very profitable core audience.
Mr. Robertson, with the benefit of access to staff at Lego and partner companies, provides unusually detailed reporting of the processes that led to Lego’s current hits (and, inevitably, some misses). Among the hits is the Mindstorms NXT, the second generation of Lego’s robotics set, which hadn’t been updated or advertised since 2001. Mr. Robertson describes how Lego navigated between relying on sophisticated users to determine the product’s design and relying on its own expertise in the creation of building experiences.

For the full review, see:
DAVID A. PRICE. “BOOKSHELF; The House That Lego Built; Lego balked at licensing warlike ‘Star Wars’ toys. But then anthropological research convinced company executives that kids like to compete.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 23, 2013): A15.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 22, 2013.)

The book under review, is:
Robertson, David. Brick by Brick: How Lego Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry. New York: Crown Business, 2013.

For Innovator It Is Better to Use Wealth to Innovate than to Donate

“Steve Jobs, a founder of Apple, has focused on his work to improve the lives of millions of people through technology.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

The column quoted below, written before Steve Jobs’ death, asks an important question: should an innovative entrepreneur be a prominent philanthropist? I believe that innovative entrepreneurs can often do the most good by using their wealth to innovate rather than to donate.

(p. B1) Steve Jobs is a genius. He is an innovator. A visionary. He is perhaps the most beloved billionaire in the world.

Surprisingly, there is one thing that Mr. Jobs is not, at least not yet: a prominent philanthropist.
Despite accumulating an estimated $8.3 billion fortune through his holdings in Apple and a 7.4 percent stake in Disney (through the sale of Pixar), there is no public record of Mr. Jobs giving money to charity. He is not a member of the Giving Pledge, the organization founded by Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates to persuade the nation’s wealthiest families to pledge to give away at least half their fortunes. (He declined to participate, according to people briefed on the matter.) Nor is there a hospital wing or an academic building with his name on it.
None of this is meant to judge Mr. Jobs. I have long been a huge admirer of Mr. Jobs and consider him the da Vinci of our time.
. . .
(p. B4) . . . Mr. Jobs has always been upfront about where he has chosen to focus. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal in 1993 , he said, “Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful … that’s what matters to me.”

For the full commentary, see:
ANDREW ROSS SORKIN. “DEALBOOK COLUMN; The Mystery of Steve Jobs’s Public Giving.” The New York Times (Tues., AUGUST 30, 2011): B1 & B4.
(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs added; ellipsis within last paragraph, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUGUST 29, 2011.)

Frank Lloyd Wright Loved Cars

CordL29OwnedByFrankLloydWright2013-08-10.jpg “In the early 1920s, Wright bought a 1929 Cord L-29, which he praised for its sensible front-wheel drive. Besides, “It looked becoming to my houses,” he wrote in his book “An Autobiography.” He seemed to have a special bond with the Cord. “The feeling comes to me that the Cord should be heroic in this autobiography somewhere,” he wrote.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 9) Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect whose birth in 1867 preceded the gasoline-powered automobile’s by about 20 years, was an early adopter of the internal-combustion engine and an auto aficionado all his life.
He was also eerily prophetic in understanding how the car would transform the American landscape, and his designs reflect this understanding. Wright often designed both for and around automobiles, and his masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, owes its most distinctive feature, the spiral of its rotunda, to his love for the automobile.
. . .
Wright was seduced by the combination of beauty, power and speed, whether powered by hay or by gas. He owned horses, and his first car, a yellow Model K Stoddard-Dayton roadster, was the same model that in 1909 won the very first automobile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Called the Yellow Devil by his neighbors, this was a 45-horsepower car capable of going 60 miles an hour. Wright and his sons seemed to enjoy that horsepower with abandon: “Dad was kept busy paying fines,” his son John observed. So enamored was Wright of his automobile that he installed gas pumps in the garage of his home and studio in Oak Park, Ill.
. . .
In the early 1920s, Wright owned a custom-built Cadillac and later bought a 1929 Cord L-29, which he praised for its sensible front-wheel drive. Besides, “It looked becoming to my houses,” he wrote in his book “An Autobiography.” He seemed to have a special bond with the Cord. “The feeling comes to me that the Cord should be heroic in this autobiography somewhere,” he wrote.
Wright’s Cord can be seen today at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Ind.

For the full story, see:
INGRID STEFFENSEN. “Frank Lloyd Wright: The Auto as Architect’s Inspiration.” The New York Times, SportsSunday Section (Sun., August 9, 2009): 9.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date August 6, 2009 and the title “The Auto as Architect’s Inspiration.” There are some small differences between the print and online versions, although I think the sentences quoted above are the same in both.)

Wright’s autobiography, mentioned above, is:
Wright, Frank Lloyd. An Autobiography. New York: Horizon Press, 1977.

When Google Earned a Profit, Sergey Brin “Felt Like We Had Built a Real Business”

(p. 94) . . . , Google was reaping rewards, and 2002 was its first profitable year. “That’s really satisfying,” Brin said at the time. “Honestly, when we were still in the dot-com boom days, I felt like a schmuck. I had an Internet start-up– so did everybody else. It was unprofitable, like everybody else’s, and how hard is that? But when we became profitable, I felt like we had built a real business.”

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Why “Experts” Censor Their Views to Conform to the Consensus


Source of book image:

(p. 5) In his classic 1972 book, “Groupthink,” Irving L. Janis, the Yale psychologist, explained how panels of experts could make colossal mistakes. People on these panels, he said, are forever worrying about their personal relevance and effectiveness, and feel that if they deviate too far from the consensus, they will not be given a serious role. They self-censor personal doubts about the emerging group consensus if they cannot express these doubts in a formal way that conforms with apparent assumptions held by the group.

For the full commentary, see:
ROBERT J. SHILLER. “ECONOMIC VIEW; Challenging the Crowd in Whispers, Not Shouts.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., November 2, 2008): 5.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 1, 2008.)

The reference for the second, and last, edition of the Janis book, is:
Janis, Irving L. Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. 2nd (pb) ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 1982.

Climate Scientists Are Puzzled by “Lull” in Global Warming, Even with “Record Pace” of Greenhouse Gases

(p. D3) As unlikely as this may sound, we have lucked out in recent years when it comes to global warming.
The rise in the surface temperature of earth has been markedly slower over the last 15 years than in the 20 years before that. And that lull in warming has occurred even as greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere at a record pace.
The slowdown is a bit of a mystery to climate scientists.

For the full story, see:
JUSTIN GILLIS. “BY DEGREES; What to Make of a Warming Plateau.” The New York Times (Tues., June 11, 2013): D3.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 10, 2013.)

Why IT-Savy Companies Are More Profitable


Dr. Peter Weill, Chair of the Center for Information Systems Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Source of caption information and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. R2) DR. WEILL: The IT-savvy companies are 21% more profitable than non-IT-savvy companies. And the profitability shows up in two ways. One is that IT-savvy companies have identified the best way to run their core day-to-day processes. Think about UPS or Southwest Airlines or Amazon: They run those core processes flawlessly, 24 hours a day.

The second thing is that IT-savvy companies are faster to market with new products and services that are add-ons, because their innovations are so much easier to integrate than in a company with siloed technology architecture, where you have to glue together everything and test it and make sure that it all works. We call that the agility paradox–the companies that have more standardized and digitized business processes are faster to market and get more revenue from new products.
Those are the two sources of their greater profitability: lower costs for running existing business processes, and faster innovation.

For the full interview, see:
Martha E. Mangelsdorf, interviewer. “EXECUTIVE BRIEFING; Getting an Edge From IT; Companies need to think strategically about their tech investments.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., November 30, 2009): R2.
(Note: bold in original.)

Yahoo Execs Complained that Google Did Yahoo Searches too Well

(p. 45) Even though Google never announced when it refreshed its index, there would invariably be a slight rise in queries around the world soon after the change was implemented. It was as if the global subconscious realized that there were fresher results available.
The response of Yahoo’s users to the Google technology, though, was probably more conscious. They noticed that search was better and used it more. “It increased traffic by, like, 50 percent in two months,” Manber recalls of the switch to Google. But the only comment he got from Yahoo executives was complaints that people were searching too much and they would have to pay higher fees to Google.
But the money Google received for providing search was not the biggest benefit. Even more valuable was that it now had access to many more users and much more data. It would be data that took Google search to the next level. The search behavior of users, captured and encapsulated in the logs that could be analyzed and mined, would make Google the ultimate learning machine.

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Margaret Thatcher Funeral: “Suddenly from the Crowd a Great Roar”

ThatcherSupporterWithSign203-09-02.jpg “A supporter of Margaret Thatcher holds a banner outside St. Clement Danes church in London.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A15) The funeral of Margaret Thatcher was beautiful, moving, just right. It had dignity and spirit, and in that respect was just like her. It also contained a surprise that shouldn’t have been a surprise. It was a metaphor for where she stood in the pantheon of successful leaders of the 20th century.
. . .
At the end of the funeral they all marched down the aisle in great procession–the family, the queen, the military pallbearers carrying the casket bearing the Union Jack. The great doors flung open, the pallbearers marched forward, and suddenly from the crowd a great roar. We looked at each other. Demonstrators? No. Listen. They were cheering. They were calling out three great hurrahs as the pallbearers went down the steps. Then long cheers and applause. It was electric.
England came. The people came. Later we would learn they’d stood 30 deep on the sidewalk, that quiet crowds had massed on the Strand and Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill. A man had held up a sign: “But We Loved Her.”
. . . When they died, Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher were old and long past their height of power. Everyone was surprised when Reagan died that crowds engulfed the Capitol; people slept on sidewalks to view him in state. When John Paul died the Vatican was astonished to see millions converge. “Santo Subito.”
And now at the end some came for Thatcher, too.
What all three had in common: No one was with them but the people.
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, rest in peace.

For the full commentary, see:
PEGGY NOONAN. “DECLARATIONS; Britain Remembers a Great Briton; Margaret Thatcher’s coffin stood over he crypts that hold the tombs of Nelson and Wellington. It mattered.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 20, 2013): A15.
(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 22, 2013 (I did not see any update in the part I quoted above), and has the title “DECLARATIONS; Noonan: Britain Remembers a Great Briton; Mrs. Thatcher is with Wellington and Nelson now.”)

Silicon Valley May Be Insulated from the Jobs Ordinary People Need to Get Done

A long while ago I read somewhere that in his prime Bill Gates deliberately tested Microsoft software on the limited hardware that mainstream customers could afford, rather than on the cutting edge hardware he himself could easily afford. I thought that this gave an important clue to Gates’ and Microsoft’s success.
Christensen and Raynor (2003) suggest that the successful entrepreneur will think hard about what jobs ordinary people want to get done, but are having difficulty doing.
The passages quoted below suggest that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are insulated from ordinary life, and so may need to work harder at learning what the real problems are.

(p. B5) Engineers tend to move to the Bay Area because of the opportunity to get together with other engineers and, just maybe, create a great company, Mr. Smith said. But in a region that has the highest concentration of tech workers in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the bars, restaurants and other haunts of entrepreneurs can be an echo chamber. The result can be a focus on solutions for mundane problems.
. . .
. . . too often, says Jason Pontin, the editor in chief and publisher of MIT Technology Review, . . . start-ups are solving “fake problems that don’t actually create any value.” Mr. Pontin knows a thing or two about companies that aren’t exactly reaching for the stars. From 1996 to 2002, he was the editor of Red Herring, a magazine in San Francisco that chronicled the region’s dot-com boom and eventual collapse.

For the full commentary, see:
NICK BILTON. “Disruptions: The Echo Chamber of Silicon Valley.” The New York Times (Mon., June 3, 2013): B5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 2, 2013.)

The Christensen and Raynor book that I mention above, is:
Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.