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Reading notes: How Google Works

Good book but return on time invested could be improved

Not a bad book.

I have recently finished How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg.

What’s my take on this book?

Well, it’s not a bad book. But it’s not an incredible one either.

The book is relatively cheap and it reads quickly. So overall the ratio of money & time invested vs. insights gained is OK. Still, I would not keep this book in my list of most loved books.

What is this book about

Let’s have a look at the table of contents. I believe this sums up the book very well:

The table of contents looks like a big list of advices.

Does it look like a big list of advices from Google’s former top executives?

You nailed it. It’s exactly that.

Why it is interesting to read this book

OK, so it is a big list of advices. Are the advices any good?

Yes they are! The advices are great.

Great quotes

Many advices are very well put. You’ll find quotes that you’ll want to remember. You’ll look so awesome when you’ll say them at the next cocktail party!

Such quotes can also be very powerful when you’re mentoring. Indeed the chances that people listen to you are dramatically higher when you say that it comes from books like How Google Works.

A sneak peek inside Google

In addition these advices are giving you a unique insight on how Google works — which is, for sure, radically different from what most companies do.

Maybe these advices won’t be of any practical use for you, but getting a sneak peak at Google’s inner workings (or at least what it used to be, at some point in time) is simply delightful.

Note the marketing sentence in blue. You really can’t resist buying the book now.

According to the back cover, that actually would be the main reason to buy and read the book:

‘A blink view of what it is to work at one of the world’s most successful companies. For that voyeuristic reason alone, it is worth reading

— Independent

(emphasis mine)

You should be aware, however, that the book might not reflect what Google is like today. The book’s not very old yet (first publication: 2014) but it seems that things have changed since the events described in the book. People are now unsure whether the famous Google mantra Don’t be evil still holds or not.

Why I did not love this book

Well, given that the book is at heart just a collection of (great) advices, maybe the narrative style is too much. I know that without it, it would hardly qualify as a book, that is something that people buys to read some kind of story.

Without the narrative style, it would hardly qualify as something that could be sold cheaply to a wide audience.

And I’m pretty sure that the book sold in masses, so their goal has been reached. Heck, the front cover says it is a New York Times bestseller after all. But for the already enlightened reader, who wants to maximize the value he gets from the time he spends, sometimes the book gets boring. We keep reading because there and there we find some amazing quotes, some great insights, some interesting revelation about Google, and some OK jokes. But in secret we wish that we could go directly to the point and move on.

Oh yeah, that’s selfish, I know that. They’ve spent countless hours to write this book and all I’m saying is that they should have given us the raw gems instead. I totally should feel shameful of having such thoughts.

But come on! We’re in the information age for some time now. Internet got everything we need at the tip of a Google research.(How ironic is that?) We only want the greatest information and no coating around it, for the minimum effort invested.

But without the narrative style the book would be tasteless, wouldn’t it?

Think that’s not possible? Want an example? Fine! I have the perfect example at hand.

Have a look at Getting Real by 37signals. The book literally is a list of advices, and there is no narrative style — just straight to the point, each time, every time.

And I totally love it.

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