Evil, Knaves, Divas, And Other Tech Industry Concerns

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Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, told an audience at the Cleveland Clinic that evil can come in many forms.

Products or services that don’t really serve “end-users” – that’s one form of evil.

He recalled a debate at Google sparked by a proposal to mix online ads with news in a new way. An engineer who deemed that evil pounded the table. Schmidt says, ultimately, the proposal was shelved.

“ And I’m sitting there going like, “Oh my God…” Uhm….you need to have permission to have the conversation," recollected Schmidt. "And so this principle guided almost all of the decisions that we made.”

In his remarks, former Google executive Jonathan Rosenberg gave some pointers about winnowing out employees. He said you want to fight for “divas”….difficult yet brilliant employees who produce great results. On the other hand….

“You want to get rid of ‘knaves’ quickly and brutally," Rosenberg added. "I define a ‘knave’ as someone who lies, someone who cheats, someone who steals, someone who takes credit for somebody else’s work. ‘Cause if you get too much of a tipping point in knave density, then everybody’s miserable.”

Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove hosted the discussion. At one point, he turned to both men and asked, “What does Google know about us?” …a reference to the privacy concerns raised by critics, who worry that the search engine giant has become a bit too omnipotent about its user community.

“You can use Google in such a way, it’s called “incognito mode”, that no information is ever retained about you," Schmidt replied. "So what we try to do with this privacy concern, our default is a reasonable compromise…and most people are very law abiding and mean well and so forth, but if you have some special concern over this, we give you the tools to decide where you are.”

A few days later, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak spoke here at a convention of entrepreneurs. In an interview with WCPN, he said some companies work best with top down leadership. He said it worked for Apple under Steve Jobs and continues to do so with Tim Cook as CEO.

“Creativity is always the key," began Wozniak. "The trouble is, when you get a huge corporation making tens of millions of products, like Apple, Samsung, and Nokia, and all these phone companies….you’re making a big product….the innovation has to come from the top, and usually it has to be constrained to one person.”

As to learning and technology, “The Woz” had an unexpected take.

“Technology is the essential and most important academic tool that we’ve ever had in our history. Has it made kids, students, learn more and come out smarter and better thinkers? That’s the funny thing, I have to say “no” to that. Has it really improved how good a job they can do in society? No, it is the tool they have to use, the tool of the day. I’m a little disappointed. I thought that computers were going to make a bigger difference in how people came out, and how fast their brains worked. I think that still has a chance in the future.”

A future that apparently includes its share of evil, knaves, divas, and wizards singlehandedly making magic.

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