A former Google engineer explains how creative freedom can turn people into entitled jerks

March 13, 2018

For a certain type of worker, Google sounds like paradise. The company offers on-site gyms, generous 401(k) matches, cafeteria trolleys stocked with chai tea and mango lassis, and even high-tech Japanese toilets. But its most attractive benefit may be the gift of personal autonomy.

As one former Google employee tells it in an email posted on the economics blog Marginal Revolution, during the 10 years that he worked at the Silicon Valley giant, Google granted engineers nearly unlimited creative freedom. He writes:

The official mantra was, "hire the smartest people and they'll figure out the right thing to do." People were generally allowed to sign up for any project that interested them (there was a database where engineers could literally add your name to a project that interested you) ... Almost anything would be considered as a new project unless it was considered to be "not ambitious enough."

There's no doubt that workers are happier when they have more autonomy. The trouble starts when they begin to mistake their individual happiness for the company's end goal.

By Sarah Todd