Fast Company

Between the Lines

The stories behind this issue's stories.

Gauging Google's Growth

Just how big is Google? No one's really sure. Its private-company status ensures that there's more speculation than known fact about its scale and reach.

But I uncovered an intriguing hint while I explored "How Google Grows...and Grows...and Grows" (page 74). As I toured the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, my guide pointed out a pencil-and-crayon chart that spanned two walls of a corridor and was comically annotated by employees (and, supposedly, by Al Gore, a pal of CEO Eric Schmidt). The chart has tracked Google's daily volume of queries since the company's inception in 1998. Needless to say, the line in the chart goes up. A lot. I noted the traffic over the last several days of December. It was a big number. In fact, it was a lot bigger than the "more than 150 million" queries that Google says it gets each day.

I later called Google on this. The company's top PR guy, David Krane, admitted that the "150 million" figure understates the company's true volume of searches. He said that Google does this "for competitive reasons." But he also insisted that the number I saw wasn't the number I saw: "You must have misread the chart."

Well, fine. Maybe Google makes charts that only geeks (and former vice presidents) can comprehend. And since I can't otherwise confirm the number, I'm not going to tell you what it is.

But consider this: Google has been offering up its "more than 150 million" factoid since December 2001. In the year-plus since, total Web traffic has continued its meteoric growth rate. So how big is Google really? Unfortunately, it's still a secret. - Keith H. Hammonds

Knotty by Nature

When I traveled to the University of Vermont for a preview of "Earth Inc.'s Annual Report" (page 48), I discovered that professor Robert Costanza and his colleagues at the Gund Institute don't just take an academic stand on the idea of ecological economics. They write on what they write about, in the form of "sustainable" office furniture.

How does sustainable furniture differ from the standard stuff sold to the cubicle crowd? It has knots, for starters. To build desks and bookcases without blemishes, furniture manufacturers waste a lot of wood. The presence of knots (or "character wood," as the sustainable-timber industry prefers to call them) is a mark of manufacturing efficiency. Also, wood should be local, or it may have to travel hundreds, even thousands of miles in an exhaust-belching truck. And anything that is mass-produced with one kind of wood is probably trouble, Costanza adds. Oak or pine plantations, which are grown by traditional timber outfits to supply large-scale manufacturers, slowly destroy the land, which thrives on the diversity of species found in a real forest.

What kind of outfit can meet Costanza's standards? A local company called Beeken Parsons worked with Vermont Family Forests, whose network of ecologically minded landowners and loggers supplied the lumber for Costanza's furniture, to clear a healthy mix of trees. Carefully matching color and grain, they used what they cut. "This is solid wood furniture that's not going anywhere soon," Costanza says proudly. "This is timeless stuff." - Douglas McGray

Are You Good to Grow?

Every CEO is eager for "Double-Digit Growth in No-Growth Times" (page 66). But during the research for our new book, How to Grow When Markets Don't (the basis of the cover story in this issue), it became clear to us that wanting growth and making it happen are very different things.

That's why we made a checklist for pro-growth executives. If you can't say yes to all of these questions, you should probably stop your initiative before you start it.

  1. Is there a talented day-to-day leader for the new business?
  2. Will my senior management invest its time, resources, and clout to support the new business?
  3. Are there 10 high-quality people we are willing to send to staff the new business?
  4. Are we ready to support the business with its own profit-and-loss statement and an off-site location?
  5. Are we willing to authorize a significant level of budget authority once the initial concept has proven itself to be financially sound?
  6. Are we prepared to apply a different set of performance metrics as well as a different compensation formula than those used in the core business?

- Adrian Slywotzky and Richard Wise

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