Tag Archives: Google

Some Thoughts on Investing from My Recent Interview

In the first few years of this blog I posted occasionally, but still much more than the last few years, on investing and economics. Now I mainly post on those topics on the Curious Cat Investing and Economics blog (see how the name and that practice are in sync with each other?).

I was recently interviewed about investing strategies and thoughts and decided to share that with the readers of this blog. Some excerpts from the interview:

I have maintained a portfolio that I call the sleep well portfolio for 10 years (started April 2005). I hardly have any turnover (under 2% annually I think) and hold stocks I would be comfortable locking in a vault for 10 years. The largest holding there is Apple, followed by Google; I also still really like Google as a long term investment. The stocks in the portfolio for the entire period are: Google, Amazon, Toyota, Intel, Pfizer…

We got out of the “Too Big to Fail” crisis, but have not addressed the core problems – and likely have made them much worse. We didn’t take the opportunity to address the financial system risks created by the actions of “Too Big to Fail” banks. And it seems to me we have left the central banks in a very vulnerable position. They have already played strategies that previously seemed impossible due to the position they were placed in, and if it happens again, what are they going to be able to do? I think the risk of massive economic failure is large enough to consider in an investment portfolio.

How would you suggest an investor guard against the potential for a massive economic disaster?

John Hunter: My main thoughts on that are to greatly value companies that are likely to weather economic calamity greater than any since the great depression. Having tons of cash obviously helps (Apple, Google…). Having a business model that puts a company in a position to make money (even if it is a lot less than they are making today) if the economy does extremely poorly, is also good (Apple, Google, AbbVie…).

It is possible for the economy to be hit so hard Apple, Google, etc. lose money. But if that happens, I believe huge numbers of other companies are going to be out of business, and the economy will be in shambles…

The sleep well portfolio has beaten the S&P 500 by about 220 basis points (on an annual rate of return basis) (see details on how marketocracy calculates returns – they reduce returns by 200 basis points to simulate investment adviser fees). The interview includes much more details as well as links to posts on my investing blog going into more detail.
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Out of Touch Executives Damage Companies: Go to the Gemba

When your customer service organization is universally recognized as horrible adding sales requirements to customer service representatives jobs is a really bad practice. Sadly it isn’t at all surprising to learn of management doing just that at our largest companies. Within a system where cash and corruption buys freedom from market forces (see below for more details) such practices can continue.

Such customer hostile practices shouldn’t continue. They shouldn’t be allowed to continue. And even though the company’s cash has bought politically corrupt parties to allow such a system to survive it isn’t even in the selfish interest of the business. They could use the cover provided by bought-and-paid-for-politicians-and-parties to maintain monopolistic pricing (which is wrong ethically and economically but could be seen as in the self interest of a business). But still provide good service (even while you take monopolistic profits allowed with corrupt, though legal, cash payments).

Of course, Adam Smith knew the likely path to corruption of markets made up of people; and he specifically cautioned that a capitalist economic system has to prevent powerful entities efforts to distort markets for individual gain (perfect competition = capitalism, non-competitive markets = what business want, as Adam Smith well knew, but this is precisely not capitalism). Sadly few people taking about the free-market or capitalism understand that their support of cronyist policies are not capitalist (I suppose some people mouthing those words are just preaching false ideas to people known to be idiots, but really most don’t seem to understand capitalism).

Anyway, this class of protected businesses supported by a corrupt political and government (regulators in government) sector is a significant part of the system that allows the customer hostility of those politically connected large businesses to get away with a business model based on customer hostility, but wasn’t really what I meant to write about here.

Comcast executives have to know they are running a company either rated the worst company in the country or close to it year after year. They, along with several others in their industry, as well as the cell phone service providers and too-big-to-fail-banks routinely are the leaders of companies most reviled by customers. Airlines are also up their for treating customer horribly but they are a bit different than the others (political corruption is much less of the reason for their ability to abuse customers for decades than is for the others listed above).

Leaked Comcast employee metrics show what we figured: Sell or perish [Updated]
Training materials explicitly require a “sell” phase, even in support calls.

The company’s choice to transform what is traditionally a non-revenue-generating area—customer service—into a revenue-generating one is playing out with almost hilariously Kafkaesque consequences. It is the nature of large corporations like Comcast to have dozens of layers of management through which leadership instructions and directives are filtered. The bigger the company, the more likely that members of senior leadership (like Tom Karinshak) typically make broad policy and leave specific implementations to lower levels.

Here, what was likely praised in the boardroom as an “innovative” strategy to raise revenue is instead doing much to alienate customers and employees alike. Karinshak’s assurances that he doesn’t want employees to feel pressured to sell in spite of hard evidence that Comcast demands just that are hard to square with the content of the document.

So what is going on here? Most people can easily see this is likely a horrible practice. It is a practice that a well run company theoretically could pull off without harming customers too much. But for a company like Comcast to do this it is obviously going to be horrible for customers (same for all those too-big to fail banks, cell phone service providers and other ISPs and cable TV providers).

Lets just pretend Comcast’s current leadership executives were all replaced with readers of the Curious Cat Management Improvement blog. And lets say that for now you are suppose to focus on improving the policies in place (while thinking about policy changes for later but not making them yet).

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Management Improvement Carnival #127

photo of Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde

Photo of Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde by John Hunter.

The Curious Cat Management blog carnival highlights recent management blog posts 3 times each month. The posts generally focus on the areas I have focused on in the Curious Cat Management Guide since 1996 (Deming, agile software development, systems thinking, lean manufacturing, customer focus…).

  • Jim Womack, lean blog podcast #116 – Great, as you would expect. Includes a great explanation of the problems that have made adopting lean ideas in medicine, which somewhat counter-intuitively includes the reluctance to use the scientific method/pdsa to examine results.
  • What Larry Page really needs to do to return Google to its startup roots – “If your company has to have ‘No meetings Thursday’ then you’re doing it wrong. How about ‘No meetings except for Thursday’… Having to launch a simple service in multiple datacenters around the world, and having to deal with near-weekly datacenter maintenance shutdowns is unacceptable for an agile startup. Startups need to focus on product, not process and infrastructure.”
  • Don’t forget what it’s like to be 10 by Richard G Russell – Your job isn’t telling them what to do. 80% of your job is understanding what your team does, and what they need to accomplish their job; then helping them do it.
  • Relationship between Process and Innovation by Jeffrey Phillips – “Let’s distinguish between effective processes that accelerate innovation and those failed processes that either weren’t meant to accelerate innovation or weren’t the right processes for innovative ideas to begin with.” [Curious cat 2007 post: Process Improvement and Innovation
  • Surfacing Problems Daily by Jamie Flinchbaugh – “When it comes to building a problem-solving culture, one of the most important traits is being able to surface problems quickly and face them honestly.”
  • How to start a movement in your company – by David Choe – “So, here I am to tell the tale and advocate for good leadership, clear vision, constancy of purpose, and true empowerment.”
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Is Google Failing Too Often?

I think Google is extremely successful, but they do seem to consistently have problems adding to their portfolio. They did a great job with gmail. Android has been very successful. Google Maps is great. They did well building YouTube. Chrome is very nice. Automatic translation is very nice (as is the integration with Chrome).

But so many things just don’t go anywhere. I can’t understand why they can’t take something like Google checkout and make it much more successful (there is money even Google cares about waiting for success in this area). Grand Central was great – Google Voice has not built that the way I would hope. Google has an endless stream of very small companies they buy and then the service dies.

It has been long enough now that I am starting to feel more comfortable saying Google is not doing a good job of creating and building new products. There are a few successes. And having failures isn’t a huge deal – taking risks is wise. But they just seem to be succeeding far to little, especially when you look at the talent and resources they have. Of course, some will say the resources they have is a problem. I really think it is more along the lines I see you mentioning above – they have become too rigid in development. I actually support more standardization than maybe people want (there can be big benefits) but I believe you need to then allow for exceptions. It seems to me Google doesn’t allow enough. It is tempting for managers to want to duplicate the same style that has made adwords and search successful. That might not be the answer for every project though.

They also seem to be driving away to many people with a rigid adherence to proving every little thing. Now I think some of this is a significant part of Google’s success. The trick is not to throw out all such efforts, but to find ways to gain the benefits without crushing innovative people’s will to continue.

I continue to own stock in Google and believe the future is very promising. Google does far more right than they do wrong, but they have room to improve.

Related: Why Google can’t build InstagramObservations of a New GooglerGreat Marissa Mayer Webcast on Google InnovationGoogle: Ten Golden RulesEric Schmidt on Management at Google
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Observations of a New Googler

Some interesting thoughts from a new Google engineer, Things I’ve learned at Google so far

I would describe Google’s culture as “creative chaos”. There was some confusion about where I was supposed to be when I started. This resulted in the following phone call, “Hello?”, “Hello Ben, this is Conner (that’s my new manager), where are you?” “Mountain View.” “Why are you there?” “Because this is where the recruiter said to go.” “Good answer! Nice of them to tell me. Enjoy your week!” This caused me to ask an experienced Googler, “Is it always this chaotic?” The response I got was, “Yes! Isn’t it wonderful?” That response sums up a lot about Google’s culture. If you’re unable to enjoy that kind of environment, then Google isn’t the place for you.

Paul Buchheit was a software engineer at Google. He didn’t need permission to write something like gmail. Corporate culture says that if you need something like that, you just go ahead and do it. In fact this is enshrined as an official corporate policy – engineers get 20% of their time to do with pretty much as they please, and are judged in part on how they use that time. I found a speech claiming that over half of Google’s applications started as a 20% project. (I’m surprised that the figure is so low.) To get a sense of how much stuff people just do, visit Google Labs. No corporate decision. No central planning.

Sick day policy. Don’t show up when you’re sick and tell people why you’re not showing up. Note what’s missing. There is no limit to how much sick time you get if you need it.

I think he overestimates the lack of central planning, still it is another interesting view of Google.

Related: Eric Schmidt on Management at GoogleGoogle: Ten Golden RulesThe Myth of the Genius Programmer

Eric Schmidt on Google in 2010 and the Economy

CEO Eric Schmidt Reveals ‘Centerpiece’ Of Google’s 2010 Strategy, speaking at the White House jobs summit.

Google is definitely hiring. “We’re hiring a couple thousand people over the next year,” he said.

And looking at the White House summit he said, “The basic message today is that with small business – which is the primary source of jobs – we need to figure out the loan problem. The banks aren’t really lending to them and anything that the government can do to accelerate that, needs to happen right now.”

“Cloud computing is the centerpiece of our strategy. It’s a new model. You basically put all your information on servers and you have fast networks and lots of different kinds of personal computers and mobile phones that can use the applications… it’s a powerful model and it’s where the industry is going. It is the centerpiece of our 2010 strategy.”

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster today said in a note, that by 2016, 78% of Google’s revenue will still be from search. Schmidt agreed.

“My guess is that advertising and search ads will be the lion’s share of our business for quite a long time,” he said. “The reason is, it’s such a large part of our business and it continues to grow quite well.”

I continue to own Google and have it in my 12 stocks for 10 years portfolio.

Related: Google Exceeded Planned Spending on PersonnelEric Schmidt on Management at GoogleMeeting Like GoogleGoogle Should Stay True to Their Management Practices

Statistical Learning as the Ultimate Agile Development Tool by Peter Norvig

Interesting lecture on Statistical Learning as the Ultimate Agile Development Tool by Peter Norvig. The webcast is likely to be of interest to a fairly small segment of readers of this blog. But for geeks it may be interesting. He looks at the advantages of machine learning versus hand programming every case (for example spelling correction).

Google translate does a very good job (for computer based translation) based on machine learning. You can translate any of the pages on this blog into over 30 languages using Google translate (using the widget in the right column).

Via: @seanstickle

Related: Mistakes in Experimental Design and InterpretationDoes the Data Deluge Make the Scientific Method Obsolete?Website DataAn Introduction to Deming’s Management Ideas by Peter Scholtes (webcast)

YouTube Uses Multivariate Experiment To Improve Sign-ups 15%

Google does a great job of using statistical and engineering principles to improve. It is amazing how slow we are to adopt new ideas but because we are it provides big advantages to companies like Google that use concepts like design of experiments, experimenting quickly and often… while others don’t. Look Inside a 1,024 Recipe Multivariate Experiment

A few weeks ago, we ran one of the largest multivariate experiments ever: a 1,024 recipe experiment on 100% of our US-English homepage. Utilizing Google Website Optimizer, we made small changes to three sections on our homepage (see below), with the goal of increasing the number of people who signed up for an account. The results were impressive: the new page performed 15.7% better than the original, resulting in thousands more sign-ups and personalized views to the homepage every day.

While we could have hypothesized which elements result in greater conversions (for example, the color red is more eye-catching), multivariate testing reveals and proves the combinatorial impact of different configurations. Running tests like this also help guide our design process: instead of relying on our own ideas and intuition, you have a big part in steering us in the right direction. In fact, we plan on incorporating many of these elements in future evolutions of our homepage.

via: @hexawiseMy brother has created a software application to provide much better test coverage with far fewer tests using the same factorial designed experiments ideas my father worked with decades ago (and yet still far to few people use).

Related: Combinatorial Testing for SoftwareStatistics for ExperimentersGoogle’s Website Optimizer allows for multivariate testing of your website.Using Design of Experiments

The Myth of the Genius Programmer

Nice talk on fear of looking foolish. The speakers discuss the idea that visibility is good. Don’t hide. Make everything visible and the benefit from many people’s ideas. The talk focuses on software development but is true for any work.

“criticism is not evil” – Very true. “At Google we are not allowed to submit code until there is code review.” At the bottom line they are repeating Deming’s ideas: improve the system – people are not the problem, bad systems are the problem. Iterate quickly.

Related: 10x Productivity Difference in Software DevelopmentThe Software Engineering Manager’s LamentRespect for People, Understanding Psychology

Google Innovates Again with Google Wave

Google Wave is a new tool for communication and collaboration on the web, coming later this year. They are developing this as an open access project. The creative team is lead by the creators for Google Maps (brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen). A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more. You really have to watch to understand what it is.

This is a long webcast (1 hour and 20 minutes) and likely will be best only for those interested in internet technology solutions. But it also provides useful insight into how Google is managing the creation of new tools. But the ideas are not explicit (the demo was meant to present the new product Google Wave, not explain the thought behind producing useful technology solutions), so you have to think about how what they are doing can apply in other situations.

For software developer readers they also highly recommended the Google Web Development Kit, which they used heavily on this project. They also have a very cool context sensitive spell checker that can highlight misspelled words that are another dictionary word but not right in the context used (about 44:30 in the webcast). And they discuss using Wave to manage bug tracking and manage information about dealing with bugs (@ 1 hour 4 min point).

Very cool stuff. The super easy blog interaction is great. And the user experience with notification and collaborative editing seems excellent. The playback feature to view changes seems good though that is still an area I worry about on heavily collaborative work. Hopefully they let you see like all change x person made, search changes…

Related: Eric Schmidt on Management at GoogleJoel Spolsky Webcast on Creating Social Web ResourcesGreat Marissa Mayer Webcast on Google InnovationGoogle Should Stay True to Their Management PracticesAmazon Innovation

Google’s Innovative Use of Economics

Secret of Googlenomics: Data-Fueled Recipe Brews Profitability

Google depends on economic principles to hone what has become the search engine of choice for more than 60 percent of all Internet surfers, and the company uses auction theory to grease the skids of its own operations. All these calculations require an army of math geeks, algorithms of Ramanujanian complexity, and a sales force more comfortable with whiteboard markers than fairway irons.

Varian tried to understand the process better by applying game theory. “I think I was the first person to do that,” he says. After just a few weeks at Google, he went back to Schmidt. “It’s amazing!” Varian said. “You’ve managed to design an auction perfectly.” To Schmidt, who had been at Google barely a year, this was an incredible relief. “Remember, this was when the company had 200 employees and no cash,” he says. “All of a sudden we realized we were in the auction business.”

Google even uses auctions for internal operations, like allocating servers among its various business units. Since moving a product’s storage and computation to a new data center is disruptive, engineers often put it off. “I suggested we run an auction similar to what the airlines do when they oversell a flight. They keep offering bigger vouchers until enough customers give up their seats,” Varian says. “In our case, we offer more machines in exchange for moving to new servers. One group might do it for 50 new ones, another for 100, and another won’t move unless we give them 300. So we give them to the lowest bidder—they get their extra capacity, and we get computation shifted to the new data center.”

Google continues to make bold moves putting faith in their ability to find innovative solutions that others reject as impossible. It is a challenging but interesting path to success, for them, at least.

Related: Google Should Stay True to Their Management PracticesGoogle’s Answer to Filling Jobs Is an AlgorithmThe Google Way: Give Engineers RoomGoogle Website OptimizerGoogle: Experiment Quickly and Oftenposts on innovation in management

Warren Buffett Answers Shareholder’s Questions – 2009

Each year Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger answer questions in front of crowds of tens of thousands of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders in Omaha, Nebraska. The question and answer sessions provide great wisdom on economics, investing and management. Here are some of the highlights I have found from the meeting (see more on the Curious Cat Investing and Economic Blog review of the answers)

Buffett, Munger praise Google’s moat

“Google has a huge new moat,” Munger said. “In fact I’ve probably never seen such a wide moat.” Google’s main business of charging companies when people click on their ads after running an Internet search is “incredible,” the Berkshire chairman said. “I don’t know how to take it away from them,” he added. “Their moat is filled with sharks,” Munger said.

Google hopes the anti-trust regulators don’t see it the same way. And I believe Google sees their moat as easy to loose (and I think they are right). At the same time Buffett and Munger are right. The moat is huge but if Google looses focus they can drain the moat in no time.

Warren Buffett’s Q&A With Shareholders (Afternoon Session)

2:58 pm: Buffett says his hope for Berkshire Hathaway 20 years from now is that its culture will be maintained, that it will be seen as a place where good managers want to work for the rest of their lives. That and to have the world’s “oldest living managers.” The audience rises for a standing ovation. That concludes the Q&A session.

3:10 pm: After taking a break, Buffett is now conducting the formal business session of the annual meeting. It is totally routine.

3:15: Buffett, Munger and the other directors have been re-elected to the Board and the meeting has been adjourned.

Related: Warren Buffett’s Letter to Shareholders 2009Management Advice from Warren BuffetWarren Buffett Webcast on the Credit CrisisSleep Well Fund Investing Results

Google Should Stay True to Their Management Practices

I believe in Google’s past, present and future. They have shown a great ability to ignore the short term focus that dominates (and kills success) of so many companies today. I am happy to invest in Google for the long term.

This current reaction to the economic crisis, is one of many times Google can be seen to be making significant changes to adapt based on market conditions and the results of their experiments and experiences. Google’s management in general and the 3 leaders continue to practice a management style based on an engineering perspective while so many others practice the style Scott Adams has pilloried in the pointy haired boss.

The thought and execution of Page, Brin and Schmidt (and others: Marissa Mayer) is at a different level than that of most other executives. Skepticism is wise. But I believe Google continues to have exceptional execution and focus on long term innovation.

The biggest risk I see, for them, is they become too focused on the short term and lose their ability to take advantage of the great opportunities available by focusing on long term success. Google is in a position where they are not forced to abandon long term plans due to cash flow problems. The only decision for Google should be whether something makes long term sense or not. If they are recalibrating and deciding they were being too lax in certain areas (without long term justification) then I am fine with changes. If though they are reacting to short term market conditions that is a big mistake.

Google Gears Down for Tougher Times

He says the company is “not going to give” an engineer 20 people to work with on certain experimental projects anymore. “When the cycle comes back,” he says, “we will be able to fund his brilliant vision.”

Bad idea, short term thinking. Don’t drive business practices based on short term earning releases. If the idea is not worth 20 people long term fine, don’t do it. If it is, do it. The lack of cash that would force many companies to abandon promising efforts is not an issue for Google. They have plenty of cash and are generating much more every day.

To better predict revenue, the company implemented quotas for ad-sales representatives and tied the pay of more employees to performance

Bad idea; quotas are a sign of management abdicating responsibility. Quotas are destructive to success. Pay for performance focuses employees on meeting targets instead of the best interests of the company. Quotas are destructive to constancy of purpose.
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Eric Schmidt on Management at Google

   
Eric Schmidt speaks at the Management Lab Summit on May 29, 2008 in Half Moon Bay, California. Conversation with Professor Gary Hamel.

  • “The culture can be thought of as a ship and iterate culture with transparency for what people are doing. And that model scales pretty well.”
  • “I have two jobs, two roles. The first is to make sure every issue that is important is really debated to find, not the common outcome, but the best decision… second thing is to put pressure to make it happen quick.”
  • “it [managing better] starts with listening, it has to do with curiosity
  • “everything has to be based on some fact”
  • “It’s only about the people.” [respect for people is critical, Google really acts as though the people are their most important asset – John].
  • “What is the number 1 goal of the company? It is end user happiness with search. What is the number 2 goal? It’s end user happiness with advertising. What is the number 3 goal? The construction of the Google network of partners to effectuate the first two. What is the number 4 goal? To grow and scale the business… You will eventually get extraordinary returns for your shareholders and maximize advertiser happiness if all those things happen… There are a lot of business executives that get confused on what the goal is and they think that shareholder value is the goal. Shareholder value is a consequence of the goal.”

Related: Eric Schmidt Podcast on Google Innovation and EntrepreneurshipInterview with Google CEO Eric SchmidtInnovation at GoogleGoogle: Experiment Quickly and OftenMarissa Mayer Webcast on Google InnovationGoogle Management by Gary HamelLarry Page and Sergey Brin Interview Webcast

Lame Move by Google

Google does great things and makes good decisions most often. However a recent move on their part has ended very lamely. As part of what their 10th anniversary celebration they provided a search of the 2001 index (the oldest index they could find to search now). This was extremely cool.

Now if you go to find it so you can try it out you will be disappointed. Search for it on Google you will find a link to Google Search 2001 which gives you a page that says: “The page – www.google.com/search2001.html – does not exist.” Is it amazingly lame that Google took the search down, has it has the first result on searches, and has no explanation on that page of what it was about.

It would be cool for them to leave it up (it was interesting). And I would think they could make a great deal of money showing ads (I can’t remember if they did show ads). But not leaving a page at that address (which was linked to over 95,000 times) explaining what the page did and that it is now offline is very lame. Breaking 95,000 links is bad enough for some pointy haired boss that believes the internet is made up of tubes but for a well run internet company to do that is pitiful.

This move shows Google in a similar light as Gap when managers shut down the Gap’s web site for days (in 2005). Google failed when exiting the video business (DRM issues), then realized their mistake and recovered. The fix for this would take all of 1 hour. Someone just has to put up a page discussing what the page was for and that the search has been discontinued.

But really they should explore if it is better to just make it live – maybe it doesn’t but I would certainly want to look into that option. If not, I would put up some interesting results from the experiment (though if the choice is just a 1 hour solution or nothing then just put up a page in 1 hour) and link to commentary about the search and interesting things people found. This would be an interesting task for an intern, or someone else, and could provide an interesting and popular page. but most importantly at least not breaking 95,000 links (plus all those who go to the page from search results pages) is the minimum Google should do.

Related: web pages should live foreverSearch Share Data Checking the ACSIWays for Google to Improve Continue reading

Does the Data Deluge Make the Scientific Method Obsolete?

The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete by Chris Anderson

“All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

So proclaimed statistician George Box 30 years ago, and he was right. But what choice did we have? Only models, from cosmological equations to theories of human behavior, seemed to be able to consistently, if imperfectly, explain the world around us. Until now. Today companies like Google, which have grown up in an era of massively abundant data, don’t have to settle for wrong models. Indeed, they don’t have to settle for models at all.

Speaking at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference this past March, Peter Norvig, Google’s research director, offered an update to George Box’s maxim: “All models are wrong, and increasingly you can succeed without them.”

There is now a better way. Petabytes allow us to say: “Correlation is enough.” We can stop looking for models. We can analyze the data without hypotheses about what it might show. We can throw the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot.

see update, below. Norvig was misquoted, he agrees with Box’s maxim

I must say I am not at all convinced that a new method without theory ready to supplant the existing scientific method. Now I can’t find peter Norvig’s exact words online (come on Google – organize all the world’s information for me please). If he said that using massive stores of data to make discoveries in new ways radically changing how we can learn and create useful systems, that I believe. I do enjoy the idea of trying radical new ways of viewing what is possible.

Practice Makes Perfect: How Billions of Examples Lead to Better Models (summary of his talk on the conference web site):

In this talk we will see that a computer might not learn in the same way that a person does, but it can use massive amounts of data to perform selected tasks very well. We will see that a computer can correct spelling mistakes, translate from Arabic to English, and recognize celebrity faces about as well as an average human—and can do it all by learning from examples rather than by relying on programming.

Related: Will the Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete?Pragmatism and Management KnowledgeData Based Decision Making at GoogleSeeing Patterns Where None ExistsManage what you can’t measureData Based BlatheringUnderstanding DataWebcast on Google Innovation
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Google Knows it is a 2.0 World

You can accomplish a great deal by just talking to people. Google Public Relations:

I did not really expect it, but the next day I got a call from Jeffrey Korn at Google California. He explained that he was the one responsible for building the Google Bookmarks and Google Web History tools. The problem with my extension was something I hadn’t imagined: a scaling problem. Hehe, Google had scaling problems :-).

The gBrain extension creates a lot of bookmarks. Several thousands a month. And the Google bookmarks system was never made with this amount in mind. What made things worse (and I didn’t knew that), the bookmarks are connected to the normal web search. Whenever you use the web search, it checks it against your Google bookmarks. You can easily imagine what problems can come up when you have a several 10 or even 100 thousands of bookmarks…

Jeffery also made a few suggestions how the extension could be changed to make use of their Web history service instead of the bookmarks system. This would avoid the scaling problems. I may consider it some day.

But why am I telling this? Because I’m amazed how Google handled this. Instead of just blocking my extension at their side, or sending me a cease and desist letter they contacted me and asked.

Good for Google. I do find it a bit funny they had a lawyer contact the guy but still Google’s reaction was much better than most companies would be. Companies like Google, Amazon, Lego, New York Times are taking advantage of technology to leverage community efforts to improve the value of their service to customers. This is an important innovation management needs to acknowledge and manage. Or you can be like the poorly managed journal publishers or music industry that are destroying their organizations futures.

Related: Funding Google Gadget DevelopmentInnovative Marketing Podcast (Lego)Innovation at Google

Deming’s 14 Points (for software development)

Deming’s 14 points (for software development) by Jamie Dinkelacker (Geo/Maps Engineering Program Manager at Google Inc. Focus on lean principles and agile practices for software development):

W. Edwards Deming’s work on quality, while widely misinterpreted and misapplied in the USA, was nonetheless a watershed that Japanese companies, especially Toyota, took to heart…
Below are Deming’s 14 points accompanied by commentary related to software development.

Design quality in, don’t use inspection to find errors. Mistake proof the system.

In a fearful environment, workers do not operate in the organization’s best interest; instead their energies are by necessity focused on self-protection.

Mistakes typically come from bad systems not bad workers. Don’t exhort people to work harder or smarter; instead create a more intelligent workflow and system tailored tot he essential nature of software development as human collaboration (not just coordination) such that people can excel.

A good read. Also a good blog on management improvement ideas and software development (though not very active). See my Deming on Management resource where I try to explain what Dr. Deming actually said and meant and dispel some misconceptions.

Related: Dr. Deming’s 14 PointsDeming’s Ideas at Markey’s Audio VisualLean, Toyota and Deming for Software DevelopmentGoogle: Ten Golden Rules

Using Google to Eliminate Some IT Costs

Computer Science 101: A Case Study In Google Applications:

Sannier plans to shut down the university’s own e-mail servers later this spring. When that happens, thousands more will move over. The portal provides access to other functions of Google Apps, including calendar (which users can now share online, something they couldn’t do before), instant messaging, and search. Within the next two months, Sannier expects to offer personalized home pages and Google’s Docs & Spreadsheets applications combo.

The cost to ASU: zero. The university had been spending a half-million dollars a year on servers and storage for its open source e-mail system, including administrative support costs. More important is the faster pace of innovation. “Now we’re on Google’s development curve, not ours,” Sannier says.

Google’s efforts with Google Apps have fairly quietly become quite significant. I find gmail excellent (and Google talk and Google calendar are good but hopefully will be improved significantly). I must say I find Open Office very good and so don’t quite see the value in Google docs but maybe I am missing something (for those few documents that benefit from collaboration Google’s model sounds interesting – though a wiki seem like the best option in that case). Seems very possible Google Apps are an example of Clayton Christensen’s concept of disruptive innovation.

Google’s Answer to Filling Jobs Is an Algorithm

Google Answer to Filling Jobs Is an Algorithm. First, from a “what should I do,” view, I believe, Kevin Meyer’s advice is more appropriate: The False God of the Almighty Algorithm. But Google can do some things well that are unwise for others to try.

Desperate to hire more engineers and sales representatives to staff its rapidly growing search and advertising business, Google — in typical eccentric fashion — has created an automated way to search for talent among the more than 100,000 job applications it receives each month. It is starting to ask job applicants to fill out an elaborate online survey that explores their attitudes, behavior, personality and biographical details going back to high school.

They are comparing this to answers provided by Google employees (who were asked to fill out 300 question surveys). I can’t see this as an effective strategy for most companies. And even for Google, I don’t see it as a great idea, but trying ideas that might seem crazy can be an effective innovation strategy. Google experimenting in this way, seems fine to me – though I think it will fail. Better: Google’s brain teasers – but that effort probably will not scale to meet Google’s needs.

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