Long ago, Google made a conscious decision to be defined by an amazing corporate culture, while (seemingly by default) Microsoft adopted a stogy, top-‐down hierarchy that emphasized stockholder value over innovation.
And now, both companies seem to be reaping the rewards of those decisions. Google attracts the world’s best engineers, computer scientists, marketers and innovative thinkers while Microsoft sadly continually plays catch-‐up and spends oodles of cash fighting the public’s perception of its old-‐school, law firm‐esque culture. Remember, I’m only talking about culture here. Microsoft still makes some great tools and products, and Google still fails in spots.
One need just walk through their respective offices though, to see the difference. Google’s offices are world renowned for their innovation. Open spaces, sleep pods, random meeting areas to foster collaboration and informal discussion, heck, they even have coffee bars that put Starbucks to shame.
A walk through Microsoft’s main campus is like looking in on a photo shoot for Boring Office Monthly magazine. Grey or beige walls, terrible dark lighting, private offices everywhere. You can actually feel the cultural void.
And it’s not just funky furniture or color pale,e that defines Google’s culture. Senior managers have gone out of their way to make the entire company one big R&D department. Their offices boast white boards everywhere, lest an employee not have somewhere to jot down an idea when it occurs to them.
They also allot a he:y amount of paid time for employees to work on pet projects. Some employers might recoil in horror at this idea, but Google has seen nearly half of its highly profitable products come out of this practice, including Google Earth. Heck, the company sponsors a foundation that’s stated mission is to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. Who doesn’t want to work at a place like that? And all this is on top of amazing stock options, day care, ample vacation time and other goodies.
Meanwhile, Microsoft employees sit in dark offices pounding out code for the latest Band-‐Aid patch to its spreadsheet so:ware. Company executives might argue that undertaking the important work of maintaining the so:ware the runs the world doesn’t leave a lot of room for frivolous extras, but that sounds like the defensive mantra of a dying breed.
The company has grown so large and layered, its culture of bureaucracy and aversion to innovation so ingrained, I really fear for its long-‐term survival.
One of my mentors, Greig Clark (founder of College Pro Painters) said, “Building a great company means creating something that is slightly more than a business and slightly less than a religion.” Simply put, Google understands that, and Microsoft doesn’t. Which course are you on?