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A Former Google Engineer Explains How Creative Freedom Can Turn People Into Entitled Jerks

For a certain type of worker, Google sounds like paradise. The company offers on-site gyms, generous 401(k) matches, cafeteria trolleys stocked with chai tea and mango lassis, and even high-tech Japanese toilets. But its most attractive benefit may be the gift of personal autonomy.

As one former Google employee tells it in an email posted on the economics blog Marginal Revolution, during the 10 years that he worked at the Silicon Valley giant, Google granted engineers nearly unlimited creative freedom. He writes:

The official mantra was, “hire the smartest people and they’ll figure out the right thing to do.” People were generally allowed to sign up for any project that interested them (there was a database where engineers could literally add your name to a project that interested you) … Almost anything would be considered as a new project unless it was considered to be “not ambitious enough.”

This freedom made Google a deeply attractive—and inspiring—place to work, according to the anonymous author. Recruiters lured potential hires with the promise that they could work on “anything they wanted to.” But this level of freedom had some surprising downsides for the company, too.

The appeal of autonomy


Why Are We So Sleep Deprived, and Why Does It Matter?

As we prepare to “spring forward” for daylight saving time on March 11, many of us dread the loss of the hour’s sleep we incur by moving our clocks forward. For millions, the loss will be an added insult to the inadequate sleep they experience on a daily basis.

Surveys show that 40 percent of American adults get less than the nightly minimum of seven hours of sleep recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the National Sleep Foundation. The National Institutes for Health estimate that between 50 million and 70 million people do not get enough sleep. These recommendations for minimal sleep are based on a review of many scientific studies evaluating the role of sleep in our bodies and the effects of sleep deprivation on our ability of our body to function at our peak performance level.

I am a neurologist at the University of Florida who has studied the effects of both traumatic brain injury and sleep impairment on the brain. I have seen the effects of sleep impairment and the significant effects it can have.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, American adults currently average 6.9 hours of sleep per night compared...

Closing The Pay Gap Means Women Are Going To Have To Start Bragging

You’d think that simply performing well at work and helping others would be enough to get you the recognition you deserve. But as a woman you might as well shoot yourself in the foot. Not only will you be less likely to get that pat on the back, you might as well kiss goodbye (or will at least struggle to get) that overdue pay raise or promotion.

If you want to move up the ladder, you need to be your own personal cheerleader because people are less likely to do it for you. You need to brag. You need to wave your arms and point to specific results you’ve produced or accolades you’ve earned.

There are probably several reasons this idea makes you nervous. For one, you may fear you’ll actually get penalized for bragging (in which case you wouldn’t be entirely off base; we’ll cover that in just a minute). More likely, you’re simply worried that it won’t feel right to brag. After all, “your work should speak for itself”—only it doesn’t if you’re a woman. You don’t have the luxury to fail upward like the average...

To Grow Professionally, Find a Swim Buddy

I prefer to thin-slice professional development down to single and simple controllable actions in the moment. Instead of worrying about the entire portfolio of issues and behaviors holding you back, focus on one at a time and work on perfecting or strengthening it.

This thin-slicing as I describe it tends to run counter to our institutional preoccupation with annual performance objectives and evaluations and longer-range professional development thinking. My perspective: the future is out there somewhere, and we’ll get there eventually, one action at a time. As for the past, well, there are no time machines, just lessons to learn from our histories.

The best formula for professional growth is striving to strengthen, cultivate, or eliminate a discrete behavior in real time.

Of course, identifying those behaviors is not as easy as it seems. You need a steady flow of meaningful, observed, behavioral, business-focused feedback. Sadly, high-quality feedback is often in short supply in our workplaces. Instead, you need to jump-start the flow of feedback.

A competent coach is one answer. A coach can be a valuable asset in helping you identify behaviors in need of strengthening (or elimination) and cultivating strategies to make the needed changes. However, not...

Almost Everyone Is Creative Around the Same Time Every Day

There’s some basic information about ourselves that we rarely, if ever, act on: When are we sharpest or dimmest—or happiest, or flattest—throughout the day? Or, for nocturnal types, the night?

Although we may know our patterns well enough to answer that question, most of us schedule events—or get pulled into them—haphazardly. This is especially true for workday meetings. “The only criterion we use is availability,” says author Daniel Pink. He calls this habit “managerial malpractice.”

What we all should be doing instead, he says, is treating timing as a strategic decision, because our mood and mental capacities fluctuate dramatically throughout the day and according to a predictable pattern, as Pink explains in his new book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (Riverhead Books, 2018).  

That basic pattern is driven by a few factors, but most importantly our chronotype, or our natural schedule for waking, winding down, and sleeping, encoded in our DNA. Generally, the world can be divided into three basic categories: early-rising larks, night-dwelling owls, or somewhere in-between, what Pink calls “third birds.” If you’re up at 6 am or earlier, even on days you don’t have to be, you’re...