School of Thinking often plays bossa nova music. The master, of course, is Tom Jobim.
February 2013 WIRED interview with Google CEO, Larry Page …
Steven Levy 01.17.13
That’s why Page expects his employees to create products and services that are 10 times better than the competition. That means he isn’t satisfied with discovering a couple of hidden efficiencies or tweaking code to achieve modest gains. Thousand-percent improvement requires rethinking problems entirely, exploring the edges of what’s technically possible, and having a lot more fun in the process.
This regimen of cheeky aspiration has made Google an extraordinary success story, changing the lives of its users while fattening the wallets of its investors. But it has also accomplished something far beyond Google itself: In an industry rife with bandwagon-hopping and strategic positioning, Page’s approach is a beacon for those who want more from their CEOs than a bloated earnings statement. While Google has made some missteps in recent years, and while its power has deservedly drawn the scrutiny of regulators and critics, it remains a flagship for optimists who believe that innovation will provide us with not just delightful gadgetry but solutions to our problems and inspiration for our dreams. For those people–and maybe for the human enterprise itself–a car that drives itself (to name one of the company’s recent tech triumphs) is a much more valuable dividend than one calculated in cents per share. There’s no question which is more important to Larry Page.
Of course, it can be challenging working for a boss whose dominant trait is dissatisfaction with the pace of progress. Astro Teller, who oversees Google X, the company’s blue-sky skunkworks division, illustrates Page’s proclivities with a parable. Teller imagines wheeling a Dr. Who time machine into Page’s office. He plugs it in and–it works! But instead of being bowled over, Page asks why it needs a plug. Wouldn’t it be better if it didn’t use power at all? “It’s not because he’s not excited about time machines or he’s ungrateful that we built it,” Teller says. “It’s just core to who he is. There’s always more to do, and his focus is on where the next 10X will come from.”
Page thought big even when he was little–he has said he always wanted to be an inventor, not just to produce gadgetry but to change the world. As an undergrad at the University of Michigan, he found inspiration in a student leadership-training program called LeaderShape, which preached “a healthy disregard for the impossible.” By the time he got to grad school at Stanford, it was a natural step for him to 10X his potential thesis idea–a tool to annotate web pages–into a search engine that transformed the web and the world. And once Google’s riotously successful ad business provided a plump financial cushion, Page was free to push for innovations that bore only a passing relationship to his core business. Google would build an email service–with 100 times the storage of competitors. Google would provide translations–for the entire web, from any language to any other. Google would give readers instant access to a global library–by scanning nearly every book ever published and putting the contents in its indexes. More recently, Google launched its own version of an ISP service–laying its own fiber and providing broadband service to Kansas City customers at 100 times industry-standard speeds.
That moon-shot mentality is the basis of Google X, which the company established in early 2010 to identify and implement once-impossible sci-fi fantasies: Hail Mary projects like the self-driving car. Or Google Glass, a wearable computing system. Or an artificial brain, in which a cluster of computers running advanced algorithms learn from the world around them, much like humans do. (In one experiment, it took only three days for a digital colony of 1,000 machines, with a billion connections, to surpass previous benchmarks in identifying photos of faces and cats.)
Page was closely involved in establishing Google X, but since he has ascended to lead the company, he can’t spend as much time there. Some Googlers wonder if Page, clearly at his happiest working on moon shots, is essentially taking one for the team by assuming the sometimes prosaic tasks of a CEO. (Talking to bureaucrats about antitrust issues, for example, is probably not his idea of a good time.)
The evidence shows, however, that Page has attacked his role with full-hearted fervor, applying the same 10X mentality to the process of running the company.
He reorganized the management team around an “L-Team” of top aides, and he relentlessly rallied employees around a sweeping effort to integrate all of Google’s offerings into a seamlessly social whole. And in the boldest move in his tenure, he engineered the $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility, one of the world’s biggest handset companies.
In one of the rare interviews he has granted as CEO, Page recently discussed thinking big and other Googley issues with Wired at the company’s Mountain View, California, headquarters. Later that same day, Page, who turns 40 in March, announced a new philanthropic venture. After observing epidemiological behavior via Google Search’s flu-tracking service, he decided to pay for free flu shots for kids in the entire Bay Area. How 10X of him.
Though we have many talented and skilled science communicators around Australia, too often we treat communication as the final point of the scientific process. We think that the facts will speak for themselves.
The fact is people don’t act on facts — but we science communication researchers shouldn’t also delude ourselves into thinking this particular fact will somehow be different. We need to do better.
Two years ago, we commenced a climate communication project where we took leading climate researchers through rural and regional Australia, to listen to the concerns, opinions and questions of Australia’s rural and regional communities.
We encountered communities eager to hear and discuss — and plan for — their climate futures. In other places we encountered communities that didn’t want a bar of it; communities who saw us and our scientists as an intrusion. Their concerns weren’t with the climate projections, but with everything we stood for.
We didn’t heal any big divides – but this reception did point us towards new ways of thinking.
So we hit the campaign trail to crowdfund the making of a documentary on the communication of complex science. We wanted to bring some of the critical lessons of these decades of research on the communication of science to the scientists who might best be able to reframe the debate.
The end result is our documentary Up Stream, available now in four episodes for free and online.
Does the denial of climate change find an echo in the rejection of vaccination? Does the belief in wind turbine syndrome find a parallel in homoeopathy?
These are, of course, vastly different issues. Many of those who agree with one of the positions noted above will be horrified to find themselves included in the same sentence with another group they might abhor. (Hello online commenters!)
Yet there is, we believe, a common thread, a common cynical connection in rejecting — even denying — well established evidence.
On each of the issues we’ve mentioned there exists a considerable body of evidence — yet they’ve seen rejection, denial and dangerously waning societal acceptance. This is the problem we wish to address.
Why are people ignoring, or at worst rejecting well established science? In this chapter we present a snapshot of the factors, influences and causes of why scientific issues find themselves dragged into public fights.
We touch on ideas such as the inherent complexity of contemporary scientific problems, predispositions and peer influence on beliefs, the changing media landscape and the campaigns of strategic misinformation by vested interests.
In making this documentary we’ve been driven by a singular ironic fact — that the facts alone will not bring about a change in attitude and behaviour. Yet those of us looking at the relationship between science and society still need to do more to communicate this fact.
We still see scientists who desperately want key policy and behavioural changes hoping that clearly stating the facts will win the day.
In this chapter we draw out how the lessons of the past few decades of science communication practice and research have shown this fallacy for what it is.
There is — as we mentioned before — a huge volume of research on the interaction of science and politics, on how we actually make decisions, and what we might do about the problems associated with the denial of science. It can’t all be squeezed into a seven minute video.
In the final chapter we’ve not sought to provide definitive solutions or ways to get the science across to those who might dispute the scientific picture. Instead, we’ve sought to provide pointers to new ways working scientists might think about the communication of their science.
It’s clear we need to do better.
We hope that by building greater cooperation between the social and physical sciences, between communicators and those planning their next decades of research, we can start to turn the tide on the rejection of science. We hope this documentary becomes a stepping stone in the right direction.
As Yale University’s law and psychology professor Dan Kahan says in the documentary:
[…] our liberal democratic societies need to create professionals and create processes for communication that assure that that tremendous asset we have, our knowledge, isn’t wasted.
Agreed? If so, please pass this on to your friends.
Will J Grant owns shares in a science communication consultancy. He received funding from the then Department of Innovation for research mentioned in this article. The film discussed in this article was largely funded by a Pozible crowdfunding campaign, the full details of which can be seen at http://www.pozible.com/project/7129.
Luke Menzies received funding from from The Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Science Connections Program (SCOPE).
“If you meet at dinner a man who has spent his life in educating himself — a rare type in our time … you rise from table richer, and conscious that a high ideal has for a moment touched and sanctified your days. But Oh! my dear Ernest, to sit next to a man who has spent his life in trying to educate others! What a dreadful experience that is!”
— Oscar Wilde
“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school,”
– Albert Einstein
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
– Mark Twain
“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”
“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.”
“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”
— Isaac Asimov
“Just as eating against one’s will is injurious to health, so studying without a liking for it spoils the memory, and it retains nothing it takes in.”
— Leonardo Da Vinci