Monday, March 26, 2012

To innovate like Apple, you need the common touch

Wall Street analyst Henry Blodget has a fascinating post comparing the alumni networks at Apple and Google. In Blodget’s view, Apple uses technology to make useful products while Google is run by brilliant technologists. He sees this as a function of their hiring decisions:

More specifically, Google, which is led by founders and executives who posted amazing grades at the country's top universities, is legendary for hiring only the smartest people it can find--with Google's definition of "smart" being based on the applicant's GPA at a top university and the applicant's ability to handle interview questions that would flummox the vast majority of human beings.

Like most people who work at Google, Steve Jobs was brilliant, but he likely never would have been able to get hired at Google. The Google hiring algorithm would have taken one look at his flaky educational background and concluded that he would never have amounted to anything.
He then quotes charts (built from LinkedIn) that show that Stanford and Cal are the most common alma mater at Google, while San Jose State is most common at Apple. (All three colleges account for 3% of their respective employers). Blodget concludes:
I'm going to guess that Google does not employ all that many people who went to San Jose State. And I'm going to further guess that Google does not employ them because Google does not consider them smart enough or accomplished enough to work at Google.

But it seems safe to say that most mass-market consumers--the folks Google hopes will one day love its products as much as they love Apple products--are less like people who went to MIT (Googlers) than they are like people who went to San Jose State.

So I'm going to suggest, respectfully, that if Google wants to design products that are as beloved by normal people as Apple's products are, it might want to hire a college dropout or two. Or at least a few more folks who went to universities like San Jose State.
As someone who taught at SJSU for nine years — including in the honors and MBA programs — I know our best students were very good. I had not thought to think that a company founded by a college dropout might be more focused on results than academic credentials.

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