Interesting interview with Larry Page

Hello, Habr!

I came across an interesting interview with Google co-founder Larry Page. It seemed to me very entertaining, and I tried as best I could to translate it into Russian to share it with you. The translation may not be very accurate, I apologize for this. For a free English-reading audience, at the end of the post, a link to the source, in the original, of course, you can get more pleasure from reading. If you don’t like something from the interview, or if you don’t agree with what Larry says, don’t rush to minus it, think that I just translated it for you. Tim is an interviewer. Well, let's go:

Larry Page

Tim: Google is known for encouraging its employees to solve ambitious tasks and make big bets. Why is this so important?
Larry Page:I worry that something seriously went wrong with the way we manage companies. If you read what the media write about our company, or about the entire technology industry in general, it’s always about competition. Everything is presented as if it was a sporting event. It is not easy to find examples of truly impressive things that were done solely through competition. Many companies decline over time because they tend to do exactly what they did before, just making small changes. It is natural for people to do something in which they are sure that they will not fail. But simply gradual improvement is not enough.
Thus, a huge part of my work is to focus people on things, working on which you can achieve something more significant than simply gradually improving the existing one. Take for example Gmail. When we released it, we were a search company - it was a big leap for us to release a mail service, not to mention the fact that we gave users a hundred times more free space than they could get elsewhere. This is not something that could happen by itself if we simply focused on gradual improvement.
Tim: But you have to improve your existing products, right?
Larry Page: Of course. But periodically, every few years, you should work on something new, which in your opinion is truly amazing.
Tim:Now you have a separate unit called Google X, designed for such “moon-shot” projects (author's note: I didn’t know how to translate this exactly, so I left it here, this means revolutionary projects like flying to the moon, etc.) such as self-driving cars. Why did you decide that you need to establish an entire department for this?
Larry Page: I think we need to do breakthrough things, and not just improve what we have and this applies to our entire business. But now Google X is doing things that can be done more independently.
You know, we always have such disputes: We have all this money, we have all these people, so why don't we just produce more? You can say that Apple does a very small number of things, and it works pretty well for them. But I find it unsatisfactory. I feel how many opportunities to use technology to improve people's lives now exist in the world. At Google, we only target 0.1% of these features. And all together, technology companies cover only about 1%. This means that 99% are missed opportunities. Investors are always worried: “Ah, you guys are going to spend too much money on these crazy things.” But it’s just now those very exciting things - YouTube, Chrome, Android. If you are not doing something crazy, then what you are doing is wrong!
Tim: But on the other hand, pioneers always have a hard time. Look what happened with Xerox PARK , it does not seem that their fantastic innovations have particularly helped the corporation itself.
Larry Page: PARC had an impressive research organization and they made a great contribution to modern computing technology. But they were not focused on profit from their inventions. But this should not be missed. Take Tesla for example.I admire. They not only made a truly innovative car, but probably spent about 99% of their efforts figuring out how to make their product mass and popular and to really start using it. When I was still growing, I wanted to be an inventor. But then I realized that there are too many sad stories about inventors such as Nikola Tesla for example. These are amazing people who did not have much influence, because they did not turn their inventions into business.

Tim: Why don't we see more people of this kind of ambition?
Larry Page:It is not so easy to succeed in moon-shot projects. And we do not teach people how to define such complex projects. What school should I go to be taught to me on what technological projects should I work? You will probably need a fairly extensive technical background and knowledge of organization and entrepreneurship. There is no education for this. Our system teaches people narrowly specialized, and does not teach how to find worthwhile projects that can make a big technological breakthrough.
Tim: I know that you and Google co-founder Sergey Brin have long been thinking about problems of this kind. In an interview that I conducted with both of you in 2002, you figuratively described the Google Glass specification to me.
Larry Page:You ask why we didn’t do them then? We would need a huge amount of time to complete such a project! It’s like autonomous cars. I wanted to make them back when I was at Stanford. That was over 14 years ago. The only thing that has changed since then is that now we have become able to succeed in such complex projects.
Tim: Let's leave aside Google X “moon-shot” projects, tell me what is your time spent on Google?
Larry Page: Most of my efforts are spent on making sure that our key products are as user-friendly as possible. Whether it's Chrome or Search or Gmail - it's all just Google, with one unchanging style. All our products are integrated with each other.
Tim:Google now seems like a powerful and perhaps even frighteningly powerful company, is it now more difficult for you to implement significant changes?
Larry Page: Yes, it has become more complicated, but there are also many advantages. A billion users use our products.
Tim: But are you expressing your intentions well enough? For example Book Search. Providing a simple search among books from around the world, everything looked very good. But in the end, you came across criticism and got bogged down in chronic litigation (English).
Larry Page:Of course this is not nice. But show me a company that would crash due to lawsuits. I just don't know those. Companies fail because they do the wrong thing or because they are not ambitious, but not because of litigation or competition.
Tim: Steve Jobs felt the competition strong enough to claim that he was ready to "go thermonuclear war" on Android (English).
Larry Page: How well did it work?
Tim: In your opinion, that huge market share that Android has taken is convincing?
Larry Page: Android has become very successful, and we are very pleased with this.
Tim: Could you then imagine such a success when you boughtAndy Rubin's little company in 2005?
Larry Page: We could well foresee what could be done with this, and we were not hindered by the current state of things. At the time when we purchased Android, it was obvious that the existing mobile operating systems were terrible. You could not develop software for them. Compare what happened to what we have now. Therefore, I do not think that betting on Android at one time was risky. You just need to be convinced when you make long-term investments and believe that the existing can be much better.
Tim:People say that Google is motivated by competition in the field of social networks, where for the last two years you have worked a lot in the same space with one dominant rival - Facebook. Do you agree with that?
Larry Page:I have other thoughts on this. We had real problems with how users share information, how they express themselves and so on. And, yes, they are a company that is very strong in this area. But they also do really not good things with their products. Do we need success for some other company to fail? Not. We are actually doing something very different. I think it is outrageous to say that in this area there is room for only one company. When we started with a search engine, everyone said: “You guys will not succeed, there are already five search companies.” We replied: "Yes, we are another search company, but we are doing something distinctive, something else." This is how I see it all.
Tim: What is your Google+ rating?
Larry Page:I am very happy how everything went. We are working on a huge number of really cool things. And many of them have already been copied from us by our competitors, so I think we are doing a good job.
Tim: Android has always prided itself on being a more open platform compared to Apple's closed approach. A stark contrast to this was how Apple removed Google Maps from iOS6 and launched its own map application.
Larry Page: I don't want to comment on partnerships. But we worked on our card service for a very long time, and it's great to see that people understand that we have put a lot of effort and investment into them. Obviously, they are now valued more.
You can have the best cards in the world, but it will not matter if no one uses them. Our philosophy is to bring our products to as many people as possible. Unfortunately, this is not always easy at this time and in the century in which we live. The internet was great; we had the opportunity to deliver our products to everyone, quickly and with high quality. Now we are moving back with this huge number of platforms that are. Companies are trying to protect everything, and I think it slows down the pace of innovation.
Tim: Google was challenged on the patent front, the question was about buying a portfolio of Motorola.
Larry Page: We also bought the company itself.
Tim:Right. But since then the company has been releasing only those products that were previously in the production line. We do not know what your plans are. Should we expect Google to be as disruptive and innovative with Motorola as it was in other areas?
Larry Page: As we said when we acquired Motorola, we give it independence, and Dennis Woodside is responsible. But there is a lot that we want to do with Motorola and what Dennis wants to do. There are many opportunities for innovation in hardware. The phones that we use now have glass, which everyone is afraid to break if they drop their phone. After 5 or 10 years, everything will be different. Big changes are coming.
Tim:As we said, anyone who comes to the main page of the Google search engine sees a link to information about opposing the proposal of the International Telecommunication Union, which may limit the open Internet. Last year, you did something similar for the controversial SOPA bill. But then we did not see such lobbying on the homepage. Why are you doing this now? (author's note: this interview seems a bit dated)
Larry Page:Given our own story. When we launched Google, it was not obvious that what we were doing would not be regulated. Remember, at that time, people argued that by making a copy of a file in the computer’s memory you are infringing copyright. We put the entire Internet on our servers, so if that were true, then goodbye to search engines. The Internet was pretty good for society, and I think that in 10 or 20 years from now, we will look back and say that we were a millimeter from regulation to its disappearance.
Tim: I guess communicating with “regulators” is not your favorite pastime.
Larry Page:I like talking to everyone. This is the path I follow. But I think that the Internet is now in greater danger than it was in the past. Governments are now afraid of the Internet because of the Middle East, what I see is commercial interests, they just make money by restricting people's freedoms. But they also saw a strong user response, as was the case with SOPA.
Tim: How do you maintain a company’s culture - including the power to think big - within such a huge company?
Larry Page:We are a medium-sized company considering the number of employees. We have several tens of thousands of employees. There are organizations with more than a million employees. This is about a hundred times larger than ours. Imagine that we would be able to do if we had a hundred times more employees.
Tim: You hold weekly meetings (TGIF meeting) at which any employee can ask you a question either to another senior manager, either in person or by email. How can you maintain this type of close relationship if the company grows further?
Larry Page:Everything is scalable. We need to be more aware of the time differences, because we have many people located in different places. We are thinking about building a giant cosmic mirror that would allow us to illuminate the entire globe at the same time, but we can do little for this now. So we shifted our meetings to Thursday, now people from Asia can take part in them during their working week. This process is working pretty well now at our scale, and I'm sure it will work just as well for a million people.
Tim: Wait, you’ve already mentioned twice that Google is potentially a company with one million employees?
Larry Page:Doesn't Walmart have over a million employees? Well, maybe it’s not so important for us to have a million employees, but I like to think that we were able to build a company that is really scalable to such sizes. We could add people and continue to be truly innovative. That would be great for us. We are one of the largest companies in the world, and I would like to see that we are doing more, not something that someone else has already done, but something really new.

Author of the original interview : Steven Levy
Interviewer: Tim O'Reilly

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