Described in a recent New Yorker article, Google’s success comes from “breaking the rules.” With a flat rather than vertical corporate structure and an emphasis on autonomy, action and creativity, Google encourages employees to use 20 percent of their work time for personal projects, Their message? “Work is life.”
Perhaps though, these interview questions best display the Google ethos. (Answers follow Our Bottom Line.)
- What’s the next number in this sequence: 10, 9, 60, 90, 70, 66 … ?
- A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened?
- You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender. Your mass is reduced so that your density is the same as usual. The blades start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?
Where are we going? To how General Motors was once Google.
The Ascent of G.M.
Right now, comparing Google and G.M. generates a list of opposites.
- A pace setting leader, Google is successful, Innovative, profitable.
- A leader of a declining U.S. industry, G.M. has been conservative and financially vulnerable.
But, rewind to 1910 when the auto was an expensive luxury, and you have Will Durant, a charismatic salesman buying a fledgling auto company called Buick. We’ve called Steve Jobs a “tweaker” and might say the same for Will Durant who had been in the buggy whip business. Defining an industry, he created General Motors by combining auto firms.
When tough financial times enabled a group of bankers to push him out, he and his friend Louis Chevrolet created a new car (you know the name) and figured out how to buy General Motors back again. By 1920, a loosely knit combination of car companies composed G.M. Bound more by Mr. Durant than any discipline, when the recession of 1920-21 hit, Durant was in trouble and again left, but this time for good.
With the ascent of Alfred Sloan as G.M.’s CEO, during the 1920s, the modern corporation was born. Selling cheap Chevrolets, expensive Cadillacs and everything in between, he targeted each level of the entire consumer spending spectrum. Meanwhile, Sloan’s hierarchy of subsidiaries and committees optimized economies of scale, fiscal discipline and efficient lines of communication. Within a formal culture, numbers dictated policy.
Looking back at the original General Motors, we could say we had a Google. Successful, innovative and profitable, it represented the prototype for the 20th century corporation.
Our Bottom Line: Economic Pacesetter
Every era has its economic pacesetters. The 19th century had the railroad, the early 20th, G.M and Ford and now, Google and Apple. Also though, every era eventually undergoes its creative destruction.
Answers to Google interview questions from WSJ:
1. What’s the next number in this sequence: 10, 9, 60, 90, 70, 66 … ?
Answer: Spelling the numbers out, you will see, based on the number of letters, an ascending order. The next number needed to have nine letters like 96 or, even better, one googol (a source of Google’s name).
2. A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened?
Answer: He was playing Monopoly.
3. You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender. Your mass is reduced so that your density is the same as usual. The blades start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?
Answer: “…if were you shrunk to 1/10 your present height, your muscles would be only 1/100 as powerful—but you’d weigh a mere 1/1,000 as much. All else being equal, small creatures are “stronger” in lifting their bodies against gravity. Were you shrunk to nickel size, you’d be strong enough to leap like Superman, right out of the blender. Think of the feats performed by fleas in a flea circus.”