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

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