Google is well-known for its “Don’t Be Evil” motto, one that has lately somewhat plagued the company as it has come under fire over privacy, anti-trust and other issues. Was today’s public letter from CEO Larry Page an abandonment of that, in favor of a more achievable goal of wanting to be loved?
The Problem With “Don’t Be Evil”
Last February, my On Google & Being “Evil” piece explained how Google’s unofficial motto came about and how it effectively positioned Google against other companies, as if those other companies were evil. Indeed, Google did see other companies such as Microsoft as a type of evil it didn’t want Google to be like.
As Steven Levy covered in his excellent book, In The Plex, on the creation of the motto:
“So I suggested something that would make people feel uncomfortable but also be interesting. It popped into my mind that ‘Don’t be evil’ would be a catchy and interesting statement. And people laughed. But I said, ‘No, really.’”
The slogan made Stacy Sullivan uncomfortable. It was so negative. “Can’t we phrase it as ‘Do the right thing’ or something more positive?” she asked.
Marissa and Salar agreed with her. But the geeks—Buchheit and Patel—wouldn’t budge. “Don’t be evil” pretty much said it all, as far as they were concerned. They fought off every attempt to drop it from the list.
“They liked it the way it was,” Sullivan would later say with a sigh. “It was very important to engineering that they were not going to be like Microsoft, they were not going to be an evil company.”
The Positive Goal: Deserving Of Love
In today’s CEO letter, Page talks about Google wanting to earn love, a relationship with its users that I’ve not heard the company express before:
We have always wanted Google to be a company that is deserving of great love. But we recognize this is an ambitious goal because most large companies are not well-loved, or even seemingly set up with that in mind.
Is it now a change from “Don’t Be Evil” to “Deserve Great Love?” If so, that’s an easier goal to achieve, I’d say. “Don’t Be Evil” implies that you’re aiming for a state of perfect goodness, which is difficult for any company or person. Any failure to achieve it implies that you’re somewhat evil.
“Deserve Great Love” or “Be Loved” is a more positive aspirational goal. It implies that you already have some love, and that you’re hoping to grow it. Failing to do so doesn’t mean your evil but rather you’ve got more wooing to do.
“Don’t Be Evil” Lives!
If you’re thinking that “Don’t Be Evil” is out, think again. Evil did get mentioned in today’s letter:
We have always believed that it’s possible to make money without being evil.
That’s drawn off a long-standing point on Google’s corporate philosophy page: “You can make money without doing evil.”
As for the “Don’t Be Evil” motto itself, it remains within Google’s Code Of Conduct:
“Don’t be evil.” Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But “Don’t be evil” is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally — following the law, acting honorably and treating each other with respect.
- Larry Page Gives An “Update” After His First Year As CEO
- 14 “Is Google Evil?” Tipping Points Since 2001
- Google Gets A Tag Line: “Search, Ads & Apps”
- Google’s New Philosophy: We’re A Portal
- The Google Hive Mind
- 25 Things I Hate About Google, Revisited 5 Years Later
- On Google & Being “Evil”
- Survey: Nearly 80% Trust Google As Much Or More Than A Year Ago