Purpose & People

March 17, 2009 by

Adding a line to the proverbs of the three monkeys, Google has made a motto out of a rather abstract ethical principle. Serving as more than a merely intriguing or moralistic tag line, the motto seems actually to have some organizational force.


Despite its vapidity, Do no evil is taken very seriously by Google executives and employees. The motto in fact functions like something of a self-regulating agent within the organization. As Google’s Vice President of Research & Special Initiatives, Alfred Spector, describes it in an interview on a world of possibilities, the motto is so well known that almost everyone who interviews at Google is already aware of it. The way Spector tells it, the motto is intimately related to the mission of the organization.

Google itself provides a clear opportunity to do good, Spector says, because of its mission: to organize and make accessible the world’s information. This is an overwhelming goal, to be sure, but it’s made more manageable at least in part by reminding people of the goodness of the work they are doing, and the tremendous impact it is having on the world. Encouraging charitable deeds and initiatives through google.org is one of the ways this is done.

The Lynchpin

For this kind of approach to work, however, something more is needed. It all hinges on one recurring event: hiring. More specifically, hiring the right person for the job. Not just qualified individuals, or even the brightest lights in the field, but people who believe deeply in what it is Google is trying to accomplish. Hiring “people who have passion, who want to make a difference,” is what allows Google to be the best at what they do at the same time as being the best place to work. This is what makes it possible for Google to succeed with a “culture of innovation” in which managerial decisions and the impulse for creativity play a complimentary role in steering the ship.

The power of hiring is easy to underestimate. But in a post-industrial market where skills like creativity, problem-solving ability, and innovation are so crucial, the people you hire can have a major impact on product and success. Seth Godin captures it in characteristically tersely: “When you hire amazing people and give them freedom, they do amazing stuff”i.

People & Purpose

Finding the right person for the job itself is fundamentally about discerning the qualities and characteristics that fit with the mission of your organization. It’s an alignment of people with purpose. So who do you need to look for? Someone you can trust? Someone with ingenuity and intuitiveness? Someone willing to take risks and deal with potential failure? Someone bold enough to lead a team, a division, a project, perhaps even your entire organization, into uncharted territory?

What kind of person is going to work best toward that for which you stand?


“Following Google’s corporate restructuring under the conglomerate Alphabet Inc. in October 2015, the slogan was replaced in the Alphabet corporate code of conduct by the phrase “Do the right thing”. However, As of 2016, the Google code of conduct still contains the phrase “Don’t be evil”.ii

  1. Seth Godin, Tribes, p. 98.
  2. See the Don't be evil wiki