PC and PG Matter More than Content at Google

Transparency and directness – I have always been a pretty passionate guy, especially at Waze. After the acquisition, I was invited to speak on many different Google panels and events and very quickly, I began racking up my HR complaints. I used a four letter word, my analogy was not PC, my language was not PG… I actually stopped speaking at events where the majority appreciated what I was saying but the minority that was offended by something (words and not content) made it a pain. I began watching what I said, what I discussed and began wearing a corporate persona (I was still probably one of the less PC characters at Google but this was my cleaned up act…). I value transparency and feel that people should bring themselves to work but that also means a certain tolerance of people not saying something exactly as you would like them to or believing something you don’t. That tolerance is gone at Google and “words” > “content” is the new Silicon Valley mantra of political correctness. You can say terrible things as long as your pronouns are correct or can say super important things but use one wrong word and it’s off to HR for you…

This is from Noam Bardin, “Why did I leave Google or, why did I stay so long?“, PayGo. It time stamps as “a few seconds ago,” but I know that can’t be right because I read it this morning. That’s a picture of Bardin at the top.

Bardin was CEO at Waze, one of my favorite apps when I’m driving. (Because I have a radar detector, the warning about cops is less valuable to me when I’m driving than the warning about cars parked on the side of the road.) Waze was bought out by Google some years ago.

The whole article is full of insights, some of which Arnold Kling has highlighted. It’s really a beautiful analysis of incentives. The part I quote above is one of the most disturbing. Bardin’s comment about Google on the issue of words versus content reminds me of Professor Henry Higgins’s comment, in his My Fair Lady song, “Why Can’t the English Teach Their Children How to Speak?”, about the French: “The French never care what they do, actually, As long as they pronounce it properly.”

Similarly, the people at Google’s HR don’t care how terrible are the things you say as long as you use the right words. I’m sure this is an exaggeration and that Bardin knows it’s an exaggeration, just as I’m sure Henry Higgins was exaggerating, but Bardin’s making an important, and concerning, point.

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Author: David Henderson


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