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There's good stuff in this post, but I think a lot of a company's culture surfaces at moments that are thrust on you when you least expect it.

At Google, I can think of a few points that influenced my perceptions:

- the first DMCA request we got, from the Church of Scientology

- the day that we turned on Netscape. It turns out we didn't have enough server capacity, so we turned down Google so that we could serve the traffic from Netscape.

- when the Department of Justice tried to subpoena two months worth of all user queries

- when John Battelle grilled Eric Schmidt on stage at a Web 2.0 conference and Eric declared "We would never trap user data."

All of those situations were thrust on us from the outside, and someone had to make a call. I think those kinds of decisions are critical culture-defining moments.

The decisions a company makes when everything is fine--or when you have plenty of time to plan--can set some of the company's culture. But to me, how your organization responds to a crisis is one of the best indicators of its culture.




> the day that we turned on Netscape. It turns out we didn't have enough server capacity, so we turned down Google so that we could serve the traffic from Netscape.

What is this referring to?


Google started providing search results for the Netscape browser. Google didn't have enough server capacity to provide fast search results for normal www.google.com traffic and the new Netscape browser search traffic, so they started dropping queries to www.google.com until they could increase performance.

i.e. they put their customer, Netscape, ahead of their own website's performance.


Those are all great and very interesting examples where senior leaders create a culture by taking tough and visible decisions. I wonder if they worked in the same sort of way that the post describes where new people talk about them and it makes them engage with the issues around the culture? That is, did they have a long-lived effect on culture or were they one-off boosts to it? I think you've got a culture when all employees are reinforcing it rather than just the top leaders.


Actually, I think for half of the examples I mentioned it was rank-and-file Google employees who forged Google's response. I've seen a bunch of examples of regular colleagues galvanizing Google to do the right thing. Often regular Googlers drag execs to the answer we think is right. :)

I think each of the four examples I mentioned did have a long-lasting effect on the company as well, e.g. the Data Liberation Front ( http://www.dataliberation.org/ ) is a natural result of the pledge not to trap users' data.


It is good to read this, in light of some current concerns and/or generalized "feeling" about the status and direction of things.

I continue to have concerns about Google, but at the same time I continue to perceive a culture where people stand up and advocate for, insist upon, or just quietly do "the right thing".

(Now, where's my green energy flying car. ;-)

P.S. I guess I felt this worthy of a comment, in that I continue to struggle with my own interpretation of this dichotomy. And I don't think I'm alone.




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