Eric Schmidt, smiling, in 2004

Eric Schmidt, smiling, in 2004

Last Thursday, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt chatted to a small crowd by the side of a fire on the top floor of the IAB. Googly-Eyed Goblin Maud Rozee was there to bring you the story.

Eric Schmidt and a few Google colleagues have recently published a book, How Google Works, about the management techniques used at Google. The fireside chat began with a discussion of how companies can foster creativity and identify talent. Schmidt focused on the need for companies to find the best idea. To do that, he said, “we need to protect the divas,” identifying and listening to passionate and pushy employees. He also emphasized the need to seek out every idea, saying that often the team members who never say anything have the most creative, most innovative ideas.

Schmidt noted that managers at Google have high expectations and set impossible goals, which helps to improve products and ideas as much as possible. He said that they never think about being the “first mover” or the “last mover” in a market; all that matters is having the best product.

Next, Schmidt discussed Google’s role in the wider world. Google’s decision to end their operations in China came after a 3 hour meeting, during which the board discussed attacks by the Chinese government, debated what they should do, and finally voted. Schmidt emphasized the importance of having a formal and considered process for such a big decision.

Schmidt said that privacy was a priority for Google. He noted that end-to-end encryption was soon to be the default for Android devices, and that Google also encrypts information at rest with encryption so strong that “it is not breakable in our lifetimes.” “If you have information you want to keep private, the best place to keep it is Gmail,” Schmidt said. According to Schmidt, Google keeps its users information so private that the FBI have complained, asking for back doors. Schmidt said “our job is to protect our users from illegal snooping and back door attacks, and we have done that.”

Schmidt called the European Union’s controversial Right to be Forgotten ruling a “clever decision” because it made Google the ultimate decision-maker on requests, instead of politicians. He asked how many audience members would opt to take down unflattering Google search results if given the option. Many of us raised our hands. He said that the response showed “we have a lot of work to do”. He said that he thought tinkering with the internet was a rough road to go down, noting how difficult it was to enforce laws like Right to be Forgotten, as well as anti-pornography laws in certain countries, without practicing censorship.

The interviewer asked how America can create an environment which encourages innovation. Schmidt suggested immigration reform: “just staple the green card to the PhD” He also called for better STEM education, recommending that college first years be required to take a introductory data analysis class. Schmidt said that laws which allow for competition and do not protect incumbent businesses were necessary to create experimentation and innovation. Schmidt also predicted that gloomy forecasts of dwindling jobs would be proven false. “Google is working to make everyone smarter,” he said. He predicted that, as it always has, our society will adapt to new types of jobs and markets.

 “The zoom on my Nexus 5 wasn’t good enough to take a good photo at this event” via Wikimedia