Googley Management & Risk Taking

Just food for thought ...

I just finished reading the cover story of Fortune’s Oct issue, Chaos by Design, which explores Google’s unconventional, edgy, and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants management style. The article paints a pretty good picture of a company who’s success has been built on a model of cliff jumping and “winging it”. But what struck me most in this interesting read was Larry Page’s approach to taking risks...

Take the case of Sheryl Sandberg, a 37-year-old vice president whose fiefdom includes the company's automated advertising system. Sandberg recently committed an error that cost Google several million dollars -- "Bad decision, moved too quickly, no controls in place, wasted some money," is all she'll say about it -- and when she realized the magnitude of her mistake, she walked across the street to inform Larry Page, Google's co-founder and unofficial thought leader. "God, I feel really bad about this," Sandberg told Page, who accepted her apology. But as she turned to leave, Page said something that surprised her. "I'm so glad you made this mistake," he said. "Because I want to run a company where we are moving too quickly and doing too much, not being too cautious and doing too little. If we don't have any of these mistakes, we're just not taking enough risk."

Risk taking is something that libraries struggle with constantly. And rightly so. A large part of this is due to the fact that we are very conscious of being good stewards of our community’s investment. But sometimes we can go overboard with this intention to the point that we stagnate ourselves in paralyzation. I now I'm not the first to make this observation, but I agree there's correlation between risk taking and innovation.

Calculating risk and building business cases are just two of the new skills that I believe every library manager needs, especially these days so we can rapidly respond to new customer demands and constant changes. But how does one develop these skills if you’re allowed little or no room to make errors? I don't have the answers, but I think it's an important conversation.

Anyway, although I'm not completely ready myself for the full-frontal “Googley” approach to innovation, I do appreciate Page’s positive spin on allowing for (and encouraging) management mistakes... for it's a mindset that I think one could learn from.

A very interesting article.


Anonymous said...

You don't have to be an economist to understand the "risk - return" trade-off. High risk is always mitigated by effective managers who get it right most of the time. Right decisions + risk = high returns. You have to trust your leaders to make the right decisions.

PLCMC Teen Forum said...

I could not agree more with your thoughts about risk taking. I heard Jeff Bercuvitz speak the other day and he said, "Don't worry about making mistakes. Worry about making the same mistakes."

Michele Gorman