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Tim Armstrong

President of advertising and commerce in North America

[BACKGROUND: Started at Google in 2000 and was instrumental in building its ad business; worked at Starwave, where he developed its ad program, and later at ABC/ESPN Internet Ventures; started his career by cofounding a newspaper for twentysomethings in Boston, Massachusetts.]

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IN THE FLOW

“I tell new employees, ‘At Google, there are rocks and a stream. You either become a rock, and the stream goes around you, or you get in the stream and move things along and start adding value.’ People here don’t start with conclusions. They start with questions. If you’re open-platform, respectful of others, and really driven to execute, you’ll be successful.”

ASSUME THE BEST

“We practice the reasonable-person principle: You assume everyone around you is being reasonable and doing the best job they can instead of assuming that they’re not. It creates a very positive energy. That has been a really fundamental part of the culture for a long time.”

USE ALL YOUR BRAINS

“I don’t think most people know this, but the most unique thing about Google is how it leverages the brainpower of its employees more than other companies do. What percentage of brains are they using to get the better outcome? I use the analogy of the parachute game you play in kindergarten. To get the parachute off the ground, you have to pull from all sides. That’s how decision making at Google works.”

PLUG AND PLAY MEETING ROOMS

“There’s this notion of Google being a chaotic place, but I think people underestimate the level of business process and creativity that goes into the internal operation. The ceiling projectors in meeting rooms are a small example of how much attention the company pays to how business gets done. At a normal company, when you go into a conference room, you waste time trying to plug your computer in and figuring out which projector is on. People stop and discuss which cord goes where. At Google, every conference room has color-coded projectors–red and yellow dots–so you know what plugs in where. It’s a creative, simple solution, and it actually makes meetings more enjoyable. You get right to work.”

AN AD FOR EVERY PRODUCT YOU MAKE

“Say you’re a high-tech customer that typically only runs ads for 10 or 20 of your products–TV, radio, print. But you have 12,000 different products. Why don’t you advertise all 12,000? You can imagine how powerful it would be to be able to run all 12,000 through the Google system and then measure all 12,000 ads and have those 12,000 ads interacting with one another.”

TURNING DOWN LOW-QUALITY ADS

“Larry and Sergey are fearless. During the dotcom crash, when every company was struggling to keep ad dollars, they decided we would call customers and tell them we’re shutting off ads that weren’t on target. That was a very significant signal that Larry and Sergey were committed to improving not just Google but the Internet as a whole. A lot of customers were upset, but it was the right long-term strategy. If the advertising isn’t useful, helpful, entertaining, people have a real allergic reaction to it.”

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THE NEXT FRONTIER, OFFLINE ADS

“Hopefully, we can help drive better outcomes in other types of media beyond the Internet. Google has a real sense of an ad’s quality. But in offline media, it’s hard to measure an ad’s quality the way we do online. But imagine making TV ads that are 10% more relevant. Making TV ads that are so good that you change people’s click-stream behavior and they stop clicking away from the ads, and you’re measuring that. It’s going to take years, but those are big opportunities to be helpful for consumers and the networks and the advertiser.”

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About the author

Chuck Salter is a senior editor at Fast Company and a longtime award-winning feature writer for the magazine. In addition to his print, online and video stories, he performs live reported narratives at various conferences, and he edited the Fast Company anthologies Breakthrough Leadership, Hacking Hollywood, and #Unplug

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