I recently had the chance to visit the Google campus in Mountain View, California. A friend, who is an engineer at Google, showed me around. It was a nice, sunny day in June and it was delightful to wonder around the campus and enjoy the art, the architecture and the landscaping. I enjoyed the visitors’ center – which in Google style is in “perpetual beta”. The initial, custom-built hardware rack that supported Google in the first year made me smile. (Crumbling natural cork as an insulation material, anyone?) I enjoyed the quirky features, such as the slide that replaces an elevator or an escalator. Overall, impressive and inspiring.
Nevertheless … Having read so much about the Googleplex in the press, I was actually slightly underwhelmed.
Yes, it is a nice campus, thoughtfully laid out, with lots of nice facilities: gyms, cafeterias, social areas, and outdoor sports facilities. But most of the campus has grown by accretion – as Google grew, the company acquired the surrounding buildings. Most of the campus consists of quite ordinary office buildings.
This made me reflect: I believe we regularly short change ourselves and limit our thinking. It is easy to be blinded by the performance of industry leaders, and to think that an ordinary organization like ours cannot perform at the same level – “we don’t have the resources”. This may lead us into the trap of low expectations.
If we are to inspire others – clients, colleagues, team members – we need to be inspired, personally. It helps to ensure we work in a conducive physical environment. This is not a vain luxury. It is a prerequisite for high performance. And visiting the Googleplex inspired me – not because it was out-of-this-world-spectacular, but because it was fairly ordinary. A pleasant work environment is within reach for all organizations and can be great contributor to happiness, to inspiration, to common culture and to performance. It’s a good investment – within reach.