The Art Of Focus: Behind The Scenes With The Google+ Team

Congratulations. You've just been tapped to revamp everything Google does. How do you get your team to remember why they're doing what they're doing? Try painting a mural.

Google+ Emerald Sea

Google+, launched on Tuesday, is no small venture. It’s a massive effort at the Googleplex to remake the entire company--and every one of its offerings--into something more social.

So how does a company that has committed a slew of current Google products and dozens of teams to the mission stay focused? One way is by painting a giant mural--of the picture above--on the walls near the command center for said mission.

The Google project to get social, dubbed "Emerald Sea," started a little more than a year ago when Urs Holzle, a senior Google executive who was one of its first hires and its first VP of engineering, penned a memo (later to become known as the "Urs-quake") declaring that the trend of the Web toward becoming more social--more organized around people--was a massive paradigm shift, and one that, as Steven Levy writes in In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives, "required a decisive and substantial response, including a significant deployment of personnel—right away."

After some discussion, the company leadership signed on. Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering responsible for mobile apps and developer programs, was tasked with leading the effort. It was he who decided to name the project "Emerald Sea."

"I thought: What would happen if Google could really understand people, their identity, their relationships, and their interests? What could we do with our software?" Gundotra tells Fast Company. "I thought the opportunity standing before Google was as open and expansive as a beautiful sea." 

That might not be the whole story. Levy’s version in In the Plex suggests there was another motivation as well. Levy writes that Gundotra told him: "We needed a code name that captured the fact that either there was great opportunity to sail to new horizons and new things, or that we were going to drown by this wave."

In any case, Bradley Horowitz, who was tapped as the effort’s product lead, then went online to look for images to represent "emerald sea," and the very first one that came up, Gundotra says, was the painting above, by German-American painter Albert Bierstadt. 

The team decided to make that their logo. According to In the Plex, Horowitz then commissioned some art students to paint a mural of the image on a wall near the team’s offices. And now, when any one of those Googlers steps out of the elevators on their way to work, that is the first thing they see.

E.B. Boyd is FastCompany.com's Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter. Email.

Read More: Why Google+ Will Make A Splash, Not A Wave, In The Community Pool

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4 Comments

  • Richard Marcia

    Found it ironic that the mural immediately reminded me of "Google Wave", their very promising yet doomed social messaging platform. Is they reinventing components of "Wave" here with this initiative?

  • matthewbattles

    There's a note of fear and ambivalence in the mural, not only in the storm clouds, but in the presence of what appears to be a severed transoceanic cable buffeted by the waves.

  • Robert Alan Black

    the Emerald Sea painting image is beautiful as most ocean waves are.  My question is that if you continually want to spark creativity why not install a giant flat screen tv and have randomly changing images: paintings, natural scenes, photos of beautiful inspiring scenes, etc. not the same COPIED painting all the time?