How Google Manages Talent: Generalists vs. Specialists

Photo from Stephen DepoloI’m a big fan of podcasts, and I’ve talked about how I like HBR’s Idea Cast as a great mix of ideas across business, productivity, and management.

Their recent episode #426, How Google Manages Talent, was a chat with Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, and Jonathan Rosenberg, former SVP of products, who explained how the company manages their smart, creative team, and most importantly, how they set it up to succeed through hiring.

It’s a good interview about finding and recognizing talent while interviewing, but it touches upon something I’ve always debated within myself: the struggle to be a specialist or a generalist.

I found it interesting that at Google they are looking for ‘learning animals’ or generalists when I think the general perception is they are a company full of specialists:

Fundamentally, we’re focused on learning animals or generalists as opposed to specialists. And the main reason is that when you’re in a dynamic industry where the conditions are changing so fast, then things like experience and the way you’ve done a role before isn’t nearly as important as your ability to think.

So generalists, not specialists, is a mantra that we have internally that we try to stick pretty closely to. Specialists tend to bring an inherent bias to a problem, and they often feel threatened by new solutions.” – Jonathan Rosenberg

I’ve talked about how I’ve been a jack-of-all-trades and have grown to embrace it versus wondering why I wasn’t the best at one thing. I realize that being a generalist and inherently curious is why I am less afraid of change in the future: I will learn to adapt to new situations and skills as I need them.

Schmidt and Rosenberg go into depth about all of this in their new book, How Google Works. I’m curious now to check it out – has anyone else read it? Give the entire episode a listen, or you can alternatively read the transcript.

Updated to add a presentation deck from Eric Schmidt on How Google Works: 

Photo from Stephen Depolo

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Categories: Productivity, Self & Finance

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1 reply »

  1. What a smart idea of Google. I think that is a great way to approach hiring. In our day to day lives, we have to take on multiple roles, so why not at work? It’s almost like a great athlete or musician – if they perfect their craft, they are usually are talented in other interests as well. Thank you

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