Levels of creativity – is there a strategy tax?

Via Philipp I learned of this video interview at CNN with Bret Taylor on his “present at Friendfeed and his past at Google” (Ex-Google Employee on Scaling an Organization):

As Google gets bigger, innovation becomes harder and more costly, says former engineer.

Philipp has made a transcript of the interview, I marked up some of the interesting stuff:

I had a number of accomplishments that I’m really proud of at Google. But I think for me I really wanted to sort of, you kow, forge my own path, if we can do it on our own. When we make decisions, I get to just look up from my computer and say, “Hey, you think we should do this?” And then people say, yes, we should do it.

I haven’t made a single PowerPoint presentation. We don’t even use Microsoft Word documents; we just talk to each other.

It’s a really, really interesting dynamic environment. I think no matter how innovative a culture is at a large company, you can’t really reproduce it. And I think that’s what’s so infectious and wonderful about a startup environment, that I think draws a lot of people to it (…)

With 70 people the odds that two people are working on the same thing are probably pretty low. With 17,000, it’s almost a 100% that two or three people will be working on the same idea, or at least very similar ideas, at different parts of the organization. I think there is a certain amount of cost to just coordinating that activity. I’ve been really impressed with how Google has been able to scale, but inherently it has to change – just because there’s that coordination cost.

I think some bloggers call it “strategy tax.” You know, when you grow, your strategy becomes more and more important, and it taxes sort of everything you do a little bit… because everything you do, it strays from that strategy. You know, there’s a huge cost to that. Whereas I think for smaller companies, the strategy is less well-defined, or certainly the impact of straying from it is much lower.

I don’t know if the conclusions are right, and I especially don’t like the idea of a strategy “tax” somehow distracting and hindering innovative ideas and people. To me, this just shows a poor understanding of strategy, strategic thinking and strategy making. But the perspectives and views into Google are worth noting anyway (“look Ma, no powerpoint”), add this to my other Googley posts.

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