Google Cult

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Give academic college snowflakes more money than some governments, and tell them that they were the smartest kids in the room (like their mommies did), and they might believe you. And their obscene success means they skip a lot of life's harder lessons, and the wisdom that usually imparts. They get to invent a culture based on a College Kids idealism and naiveté, with unexpected (for them) results.

Sloganeering and their own "in" lingo, hiring and work practices that they thought skimmed the very best, was actually a filter against intellectual diversity, and seems more in home in Jonestown, Guyana than in Silicon Valley. Even their unofficial motto, "Don't be Evil", begs the question, "what is Evil?" -- and to them it was a college marxists view of the world to hate everything they were going to become. So in order to be a good employee you had to put your corporations evolving ethics above your own, or you left (or were driven out). And the stock growth was enough to keep most people in place, becoming more evil, while seeing everyone that disagreed with them as outsiders (and thus Evil). They became their parents.

Signs of a Cult

While you can't judge all individuals by the group behavior, you can judge the group by the group averages. If there are traits in common to the group, that's hinting that it is a group dynamic. They might be filtering, intentionally or unintentionally. But either way, if you ride with outlaw bikers, don't be shocked if you end up in a bar fight.
(1) Tribalism: If there's differences in rules or treatment for insiders versus outsiders, that's a hint away from healthy group psyche.
(2) Hypocrisy: If the movement refuses to be introspective and admit it's own flaws or it's leaders don't live by their own rules, another hint.
(3) Ignorance: If the majority of the followers are low-information, prefer to argue feelings over facts, or fall back to talking points or fallacies like appeal to celebrity, authority, popularity? That's a hint.
(4) Intolerance: How do they respond to divergence of thought, identity or behavior, is one of the stronger indicators of whether it's a cult. Cults demand conformity.
(5) Transparency: How open is an organization, their finances or their leadership? Public versus private rituals or beliefs? A secret society and lack of transparency is cultish.
(6) Paranoia: Being paranoid and into conspiracies (especially doomsday ones), especially without some valid reasons, is a strong sign. So Jews or Mormons being a little paranoid has some valid history and justification, thus deserve a bit more leeway. Democrats in Academia or the Media? That deserves finger-ear orbits: the American Sign Language gesture for cult.
(7) Ability to leave: If adherents can leave, and not be ostracized or attacked? That's a good sign for a group. If they will be ostracized, maligned or attacked? It is not.
(8) Abuse: Demands for conformity, litmus tests for being devout enough, punishments for non-compliance with micro-managing norms? Cult, cult, cult.
(9) Insecurity: If adherents constantly try (and fail) to measure up to their exalted leader or absurd standards? Guilt, doubts, unworthiness are not signs of a healthy organization/individual psyche.
(10) Eccentricities A little is fine, a lot is not. Cults start differentiating themselves with alternate language/terminology, dress, mannerisms, or history. Those divergences from norms (and reality), aren't good signals.
(11) Prophets: If the leader is revered and infallible, and becoming more than a flawed human, then that's another strong hint of losing touch with reality.
(12) Extremism: a lot is about degrees and balances, which is what makes the lines a bit fuzzy. You can disagree, but how much? I once had a coworker shriek "No" in pain, like I'd physically struck her, because I'd mentioned some of the mis-assumptions people make on organic farming. Not a healthy reaction. But someone just politely saying, "I disagree and here's why" is completely reasonable. It's the old, "I'll know it when I see it".

A cult


They thought they were the smartest kids in the room because they stumbled onto an idea at the right time (and everyone was telling them how great they are). Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had the same thing happen a decade or two earlier. They failed at the hardest life lesson of all, never believe your own bullshit.

🗒️ NOTE:
Don't get me wrong, they weren't dumb (they were clever, just not wise), and they worked hard, and they got some things right. But mostly, everyone else got things more wrong, and they were lucky. If Yahoo had been better run, or the competition, they'd be in the scrap-heap of history -- so they're more the smartest kids on the shortbus, than the genius they think they see in the mirror. They won and deserve credit. But let's not give them more credit than they deserve. The law of large numbers says someone has to win the lottery eventually. That doesn't make you smart for playing, even if you win.

So Google founded as a cult of arrogance, that was incompetently run and had no focus in all these areas (for at least the first decade):

  • Business wise, they didn't have to make a profit (just keep growing). So it's hard for the competitors to beat that with superior products that customers have to pay for (and you need to make money on).
  • Hiring wise, their interviewing was mocked in the Valley; "let's hire based on like-mindedness and a lack of diversity". They basically gave candidates silly puzzles and riddles for many hours (to feel superior?), then a flock of geeks talked amongst themselves about who "fit" (was like-minded/geeky enough to join the mean girls clique of nerds). Candidates didn't know what role they were getting hired for, they either wanted to join the cult and get options, or weren't worthy. Who knew hiring based on "willingness to follow without question" might have long term ramifications?
  • Promotions are similar -- you get promoted based on what the team decides. Be a great performer and asocial? You're fucked. Work on the wrong team, like a support organization that helps the others -- you won't have your own accomplishments, because you spent your time helping others get things out that helped the company. (Or because your management moved you 5 times, and you were never there for final delivery).
  • Marketing wise, they were incompetently run, and had no focus. Fortunately, their lack of marketing savvy was turned to an advantage. The lack of competence was seen as endearing when they were small. (They really weren't small, but they were so incompetent for their size, people judged them like they were small because they were new). They'd say something dumb, and correct it. They'd launch a product poorly, but just jump to the next one. They didn't need marketing, because they had so many users/viewers. They could throw any shit out there, and have an audience of millions/billions, and since they didn't need to make money, they did get attention. And that was good enough to get more money.
  • Ideas wise, they were incompetently run. I ask people, "what did Google create". I can't find any answers. They did good at taking others ideas, failing miserably on 80% of them. But the 20% that did succeed, scaled up enough to make up for it. So they succeeded wildly. But if you look at how many opportunities they pissed away, ideas they missed, and so on, it's not a good record.



Google was a frat house. But they had money and momentum. Since they were immature college kids with little real life experience, they were able to run their company in ways that would appeal to immature college kids with no real work experience. Which is what they did. They mocked experience and celebrated youth. They expected you live, breathe, and think like a Googler (their immature naming for members of the clique). They invented lingo, and processes, in ways that cult does. Many people that didn't know better, or wanted to belong joined the cult because "fit".... many others that did know, just plugged their noses at it, because "stock" (or security). But since they thought they were better than everyone else, it was just a matter of time, before their arrogance would catch up to them. It didn't take long until they weren't the coolest kids in the Valley. Now many of their best and brightest leave in disgust (or are driven out), as they put conformity above contribution.


📚 References

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