July 25, 2011, 9:50 AM — The former CIO of Google and founder and CEO of ZestCash, Dr Douglas Merrill, says companies stuck in traditional management practices risk becoming irrelevant and leaders should not be afraid to do 'dumb' things.
During a lively keynote at this year's CA Expo in Sydney, Merrill said the six years he spent at Google was the most fascinating part of his career.
"Google was founded by two computer science students at Stanford and they hated each other at first. I found out they were both correct," he said jokingly.
"There is a whole cottage industry of people talking about innovation, including all kinds of garbage... and I'm part of this cottage industry."
Project management is an inverted parabola. Too little and you will fail due to lack of direction and budget, too much and you will smother it.
Merrill said there is a lot of "mythos" about Google, like free food and 20 per cent free time, but most of it is false.
He said a successful product is not about having perfect project management, rather "the more project management you do the less likely your project is to succeed".
"It's not about hardware and capex. Build your product and then figure out what to do with it," he said.
"Don't be afraid to do dumb things. Larry and Sergey developed a search product called 'Backrub' - don't ask me how they got that - and shortly after that launched Google as part of the Stanford domain. Most of the early Google hardware was stolen from trash and as the stuff they stole broke all the time they built a reliable software system."
"Everyone knew we shouldn't build our own hardware as it was 'dumb', but everyone was wrong. Sometimes being dumb changes the game."
Merrill cited the "fairly disturbing statistic" of 66 percent of the Fortune 100 companies having either disappeared or are out of the list in the 20 years since 1990.
"Eastman Kodak is my favourite example. It has more patents than any other company on earth and is the most successful research company," he said. "In 1990 a young researcher invented the charge coupled device which is the core of every camera today. His boss said you're a moron we make film."