Review: Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead

My thoughts on: Work Rules! By Laszlo Bock.

And a bit about the Google Memo craziness at the end.

I always give tags to the books I read using Goodreads, that way I can easily find them in the future and I can measure how many of each type of book I’ve read thus far, it’s handy. Work Rules! Is the first book I’ve given so many tags to. The book is certainly about business and management, but it’s also about personal development, entrepreneurship, research, and it contains its fair share of economics and behavioural science.

But what is the book really about? Well, about building a really great place to work in and a great company to work for.

Google is in almost every aspect of our digital lives, from the photos you capture, the roads you travel, the emails you send and the phone you use, laptops, TVs, fridges, pretty much anything that is “smart” is run with the Android operating system, which is developed by Google. Youtube, Google Docs, Gmail, they’re all products many of us use every single day, along with a billion other people. They’re the best products and the most successful ones. How many companies can say such a thing?

This book is an exquisite leadership manual on how to promote a healthy and prosperous culture inside your company, from hiring the best employee to keeping them productive and happy. How to do this while hiring thousands of new employees a year it’s a herculean feat of its own, more so when you realize that Google is a pioneer in this aspect, a lot of the common knowledge and usual practices of Human Resources, People Operations or whatever you wanna call it, are strongly flawed from a psychological or an behavioral point of view.

What are you getting from reading Work Rules!? A lot, a hell-of-a-lot. It’s a meaty book and although Laszlo deserves credit for making it extremely entertaining and interesting, it contains a lot of information, most of which can provide a lot of value to any organization willing to undergo a small (or big) change in their policies and way of treating their “human potential”.

I could almost guarantee that reading any of the book chapter’s provides a good idea or solution to improve most company’s current culture and boost the morale and productivity. Rules! is great indeed. There’s a lot to be said about it and I’ll have to give it a second read in the future.

Most of us are employees in non-managerial positions, by default, there can’t be as many managers as employees (and if there are as that should be a red flag in any company), so one of the things that caught my attention the most was the idea of “behaving like an owner or founder”.

By creating a culture and an environment in which people feel like part of the company is good, but one in which every employee feels like a founder of the company is amazing. Remember being part of a team in which you felt your input was appreciated, that your work had meaning and that your voice was heard?

Behaving as a founder entails taking action when something goes against the company’s culture and values, even if that something comes from higher up in management. What a utopia it would be to call up your boss and tell them they’re doing something that’s hurting the morale or simply plain wrong.

I’ve been lucky enough to work at truly great places in which my voice and ideas have always been appreciated, but I also know the other side of the coin, the “do as you’re told” sort of company. No one likes that sort of place, we’re humans with hopes and dreams, not automatons running a complex algorithm, even if many managers would prefer that.

Work Rules! Makes emphasis on just that, our humanity. Wouldn’t you like to have a company you’d be excited to work for? It might sound like a capitalistic utopia, and the author is aware of it, he makes emphasise that Googlers work hard and many, if not most, of the seemingly weird decisions they make, are good for the company by increasing efficiency and output. Happy workers equal more revenue. A lot of times counter-intuitive decisions actually lead to higher efficiency.

This leads us to a great part of the book: measuring success. If you don’t measure your changes how can you declare success of failure? What if the changes you’re making are actually hurting morale or making employees less happy and efficient? What if they become miserable but productivity increases? What if efficiency increases but people start to quit more often? The only way to know is measuring the before and after, as well as having control groups when applying changes to different teams or parts of the organization.

There is no magic in this, scientists have been running double blind experiments for decades, mainly because it works. Laszlo explains that it’s not always easy to make a management change and wait for a whole year while running an experiment to see if the change is beneficial or harmful, but how can you know otherwise? Groups of people, and individual themselves, sometimes operate in mysterious and counterintuitive ways, we need to treat organizational policies and changes as if we’re running an experiment.

There’s plenty of research in psychology and more recently on behavioural economics showcasing the power of “nudges” or seemingly small actions that have a much greater impact, like placing the healthy food at eye level while hiding the snacks, or sending email reminders and using checklists to make people more efficient. Google uses these “groundbreaking” discoveries and others to make their employees lives better.

But, how can you “nudge” people without them realizing, or making them angry for being “controlled”. Well, you’re open about it. One of Google’s main values is openness. Things should be openly talked and discussed, everyone should be aware of what’s happening in the company. You don’t have to tell every employee about the new super secret project, but you should tell everyone why a policy is changing, why a new organization wide change is being applied or why almost any change is taking place. People like to understand, everyone hates being left in the shadows of doubt.

Every organization and company are different, and as Laszlo explains, there is no blueprint for making a great culture or a successful company, but every company should have well-defined values and stick to them as much as possible, especially in the hard times.

This book is a great reminder of what we could aspire to when creating a culture and when being a stellar employee or manager.



I actually wrote this review a few days ago, I’m improving it for making it a publication now, however since then something rather important happened, the “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” memo was released by James Damore as an attempt to make people realize how many biases Google and Googlers had when it came to cultural and gender diversity within the company. The memo criticized many of Google’s attempts, strategies and policies towards diversity.

The memo went viral first within Google and then worldwide, as one news let after another caught up with the story. Some people were outraged by Damore’s memo, qualifying it and him as an attempt for “yet another white man” trying to slam down women in the tech industry and reduce their chances of being competitive. Others stood up in Damore’s defence, saying the memo said nothing but the truth.

If you want to read the memo, which is great, here’s the link. The important part is that Google fired James Damore, accusing him of “perpetuating gender stereotypes” and whatnot. I find this terribly ironic since the memo itself was condemning Google’s silent policy of shaming and criticising anyone and anything that ran counter to the main idea of gender equality, he ran counter to it (in a terribly clever and great way, go read the memo) and got fired.

This goes against what I wrote in this review since it mainly focused on Google way to treat their employees. In my opinion firing, Damore was a mistake, but that’s another story, for another time.

I believe most people that take a stance in this fight haven’t even read Damore’s memo at all. I did. He never said “women are inferior to men” or that they’re not as good in the tech field, he simply makes a point on the biological and behavioral differences between men and women and that maybe those differences have an effect on why there are more people in certain jobs. He’s not condemning the attempts to fill the ranks of companies with diversity or to stop such attempts, he’s stating that maybe the way it’s being done so far its wrong or has flaws.

People tend to draw too harsh conclusions when it comes to something “political”. Specially North Americans nowadays, instead of actually thinking about the problem and the best possible solution.

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