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Google as Place – two years later

April 18, 2014, 2:37 pm

Two years ago this week I visited the Googleplex. It was a mind-stretching experience. I also went to PARC, d school, the lobby of IDEO, Facebook, a handful of startups, and a few accelerators. It was a fantastic and exhausting journey. Google stood out for its blend of hospitality and the sheer shock-and-awesomeness of the place.

As I reflect back– these are the things that stuck with me:

Everything you’ve read is true! Google consistently ranks highly in the best places to work listings. Nap pods. Yoga studios. Meditation spots. Childcare. Laundry. Free shuttles. The bikes. It’s all there. I knew that it would be but seeing it live is unbelievable—in a positive sense. It was like being on a movie set. It was the most amazing and comforting place I could ever imagine.

Diverse spaces. I was able to visit four different buildings. While they each had “the Google look & feel” they were all a little different. For example, one of them has a putt putt course throughout an office-scape. There are also a variety of lounge spaces and breakout rooms scattered about. Each room is a little different: some had meeting tables, while others had couches. In short: the place has a quirky personality rather than an institutional mega-corp feeling.

Displays.
In a main lobby there were a handful of large monitors displaying prototype programs or people’s side projects. These openly invited others to discover, experiment, and build. Sort of a here’s what I’m working in. I liked the serendipity that this presented. As a variation on this theme —  employees are able to post photos, artwork, or other materials anywhere they want. This also adds to the conversation-starter potential.

Food
. The food was amazing. It felt like every fifty feet there was something to eat. Mix of healthy and indulgent options. This was actually common everywhere I went — from tiny startups to places like PARC —  everyone invited me to lunch or snack with them (except Facebook). But overall there is a strong spirit of generosity in the Valley.

Pool Tables.
The number of pool tables through the complex surprised me. I’m not sure why. But they were all in use too. Some had large groups around them while others just had individuals practicing.

A Library, sort of
. They did have some print materials. Mostly technical journals and some coding handbooks. I did notice a few popular business and psychology titles as well. The shelving was interesting. It served as a feature in the space rather than a wall of stacks.

I felt emotional.
I made this journey a few weeks after my startup paper was released. I was definitely in the right mindset, but I underestimated the impact visiting Google would have on me. I was very humbled. This is a place I could never work at. It was like visiting a school I could never get into, MIT or Harvard—an enchanted fantasy. My intention was to observe creative co-working environments and to learn more about the culture of innovation hubs. I’m fascinated with the curation and design of productivity spaces and Google (and others) provided insight that I am incorporating into the renovation of my library.

By beyond that, it affected me on a personal level. I felt simultaneously inspired and sad. I wanted this to be my campus. I wanted my staff to enjoy this type of workspace, cultural, and services. I wanted learning to happen in this environment rather than in one like this. I am happy and excited that a place like Google exists– it is an amazing proof of concept– but I wish that it was a setting for higher education too.

Suggestion/Dream
It would be amazing if Google offered “the Google Experience” as a physical place just not via hardware and software. Imagine being able to take a class or a team or a department to a place like this for a weekend, week, or month. Being in this environment would be like a retreat-on-steroids. But as you worked through ideas, concepts, changes, etc the atmosphere itself would drive your creativity. You would brainstorm differently. You would have different types of conversations. You would produce different outcomes. It would be a place to think like Google. I wish we could all experience it – not as tourists but as participants.

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Thanks to Katelin for showing me around and answering my barrage of questions.

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for the connections; I still owe you a favor.

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