Former Google CIO says business misses key people marks

Learn from people, not legacy processes

Douglas Merrill (Image: Joi Ito)

Douglas Merrill (Image: Joi Ito)

Merrill profiled the file sharing behaviour of people who used Limewire against the top iTunes sales and the biggest iTunes buyers were the same as the highest sharing “thieves” on Limewire.

“That's not theft, that's try-before-you-buy marketing and we weren’t even paying for it… so it makes sense to sue them,” he said wryly.

Merrill said it is also prudent not to listen too carefully to customers as so-called “focus groups” suffer from the Availability Heuristic: “If you ask a question the answer will be the first thing they think of.”

“You can't ask your customers what they want if they don't understand your innovation,” he said. “The popular Google spell correction came from user activity. We couldn't ask a customer if they wanted spell checking as they would have said know.”

“Don't lose the ability to learn from the people who do the work. Pepple will do what you measure [so] make sure you measure the right stuff.”

On funding good people, Merrill recommends always “over hiring” and diversity matters.

“Diversity yields better outcomes. Hire someone who annoys you as they are more likely to be diverse and diverse practices are better,” he said.

“To win you have to make sure you don't lose. Change happens. To you, or by you so pick. The Fortune 100 companies which are gone all 'knew' what the answer was.”

According to Merrill, everything we learned in business from 1990 to 2010 was false.

“My company has zero capex and everything is in Amazon,” he said. “The single most common thing executives do is get in the way.”

Merrill said the culture of secrecy in business is also a fallacy and people should talk about everything, well, almost everything.

“IT security people tell you what you can't say and HR people say you might hurt people's feelings, but the actual stuff you need to keep secret is small.”

Follow Rodney Gedda on Twitter: @rodneygedda

Follow CIO Australia on Twitter: @CIO_Australia

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