Google – saints or sinners?

Google - saint or sinnerIn the capitalist system large corporations can sometimes develop dual ‘personalities’.  Bill Gates’ Microsoft is both an exploitative monopoly and the provider of funds for his ‘philanthropy’.  An interesting piece in the Financial Times today – “Google is the General Electric of the 21st century” –  raises the same debate about Google, and particularly one of its founders – Larry Page. It is no coincidence that both examples come from the IT sector.  Computer operating systems and search engines are the natural monopolies of the 21st Century; in the same way as gas and electricity were in the 20th.  Natural monopolies can breed all the worst sorts of corporate behaviour (as Microsoft’s large fines testify) and Google already has questions to answer regarding the taxes it pays and its invasions of privacy (to name just two).  What concerns MI though is what effect a split personality has on the people who work for Google?  Can a mature organization be both saint and sinner at the same time; when we have to consider its overall value to society?

Undoubtedly, Google scores highly on several fronts.  It makes our lives easier when searching the internet and it helps us to navigate our way, geographically, as well.  Good organizations bring great benefits to society, great organizations bring great value: the two are not the same.  Microsoft’s operating system was never the best but its obsession with exploiting a natural monopoly ensured we did not have a choice.  Great organizations behave as though we always have a choice, even when we don’t.  Great companies do not abuse their customer base or disrespect their people.  These are the values that MI wants to instil in all organizations.  This is the type of organizational culture we promote.

Google has become well known in the HR sector for applying its expertise in algorithms to questions of people management. Its “PiLab is a unique subgroup that no other firm has. It conducts applied experiments within Google to determine the most effective approaches for managing people and maintaining a productive environment (including the type of reward that makes employees the happiest). The lab even improved employee health by reducing the calorie intake of its employees at their eating facilities by relying on scientific data and experiments”. Yet despite its algorithmic wizardry and ‘science’ it did so “by simply reducing the size of the plates. 

The jury might still be out on Google’s holy or evil status.  Maybe only time will tell. History keeps reminding us though that the lines between exploitation and philanthropy, genius and madness, enlightened management and control-freakery can be extremely thin. MI wants to build on any elements of people management ‘genius’ it can find whilst minimizing any organizational tendencies to ‘madness’.  One thing we probably can say for certain is that megalomania is not desirable from a societal perspective.

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