Chat with Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin

LP When I talk to most companies, I do think their leaders are pretty short-term focused. Imagine you’re running Exxon, what do you do? Say you want to do something good with the most valuable company on earth. A lot of people think probably, it’s not doing good things – worried about the environment and so on. But if the company has a lot of capabilities–worldwide operations and manufacturing, government relations, probably could do a lot different things, if you took a 20-year view. If you took a four-year view, that’s a pretty hard question to answer.

What are you doing in the next four years, which I think is about the average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO. So if you’re being measured quarterly– obviously, it’s good to have some pressure so you actually do things, make money and improve things. But I think the four-year horizon for leaders is pretty difficult. It’s pretty difficult to solve big problems in four years. I think it’s probably pretty easy to do it in 20 years. I think our whole system is setup in a way that makes it difficult for leaders of really big companies. Eventually, what you’re doing doesn’t makes sense over time, for whatever reasons – environmental or social or whatever it is. I think companies have a big problem making a big transition, so leaders get replaced.

“If you look at the self-driving cars, for example, I hope that that could really transform transportation around the world, and reduce the need for individual car ownership, the need for parking, road congestion and so forth,” Brin said. “If that was successful in its own right, we would be super happy.”

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LP I think we’re pretty excited about Android obviously. I think that we have our traditional businesses obviously, search and things like that. I think one of the things people have been confused about– people are like, “What is Google? Why are you guys coherent?” And it’s really interesting when you look at search. It’s really trying to understand everything in the world and make sense of it, organize it for people. We said, “Well, We’re doing that. A lot of queries are actually about places, so we need to understand places.” Then we said, “A lot of the queries are about content we can’t find. We did books, and so on.” So, we’ve been gradually expanding that. If you look at things like Google Now also– well, maybe you don’t want to ask a question. Maybe you want to just have it answered for you before you ask it. That would be better. Originally, the “I’m feeling lucky” button, that was supposed to be– you should be able to skip the search results, and go directly to the answer. Unfortunately, it didn’t work that well. It was kind of an obtuse naming of the feature, but that was the same kind of idea. We feel like right now, computers are still pretty bad. You’re just messing around. You’re scrolling on your touchscreen phone, and trying to find stuff. You’re in a car. It’s bouncy, and you can’t– it doesn’t really work. I think the actual amount of knowledge you get out of your computer versus the amount of time you spend with it is still pretty bad. So I think our job is to solve that, and most of the things we’re doing make sense in that context.

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I totally believe we should be living in a time of abundance, like Peter Diamandis’ book. If you really think about the things that you need to make yourself happy – housing, security, opportunities for your kids – anthropologists have been identifying these things. It’s not that hard for us to provide those things. The amount of resources we need to do that, the amount of work that actually needs to go into that is pretty small. I’m guessing less than 1-percent at the moment. So the idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is just not true. I do think there’s a problem that we don’t recognize that. I think there’s also a social problem that a lot of people aren’t happy if they don’t have anything to do. So we need to give people things to do. We need to feel like you’re needed, wanted and have something productive to do. But I think the mix with that and the industries we actually need and so on are– there’s not a good correspondence. That’s why we’re busy destroying the environment and other things, maybe we don’t need to be doing. So I’m pretty worried. Until we figure that out, we’re not going to have a good outcome. One thing, I was talking to Richard Branson about this. They don’t have enough jobs in the UK. He’s been trying to get people to hire two part-time people instead of one full-time. So at least, the young people can have a half-time job rather than no job. And it’s a slightly greater cost for employers. I was thinking, the extension of that is you have global unemployment or widespread unemployment. You just reduce work time. Everyone I’ve asked– I’ve asked a lot of people about this. Maybe not you guys. But most people, if I ask them, ‘Would you like an extra week of vacation?’ They raise their hands, 100-percent of the people. ‘Two weeks vacation, or a four-day work week?’ Everyone will raise their hand. Most people like working, but they’d also like to have more time with their family or to pursue their own interests. So that would be one way to deal with the problem, is if you had a coordinated way to just reduce the workweek. And then, if you add slightly less employment, you can adjust and people will still have jobs.