Google CEO in video chat: Work less, enjoy life more

The Washington PostJuly 12, 2014 

After a holiday weekend, many people probably were asking why we can't work just four days every week. Google chief executive Larry Page thinks maybe we can.

Last weekend, the technology site Recode flagged a video from a "fireside chat" that Page and his Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, held with veteran technology investor Vinod Khosla.

It was a private event. They touched on topics including the housing market in San Francisco and how Google once almost was acquired. Then the trio started talking about shifts in the labor market.

"The idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people's needs is just not true," Page said.

Page said he thinks that people's basic needs -- housing, economic security, opportunities for the next generation -- are small, yet their need to have something productive to do is significant. One of today's big social problems is finding a way to reconcile the two.

Page suggested that one answer would be to have

"a coordinated way to just reduce the work week."

He cited Virgin founder Richard Branson, who has been "trying to get people to hire two part-time people instead of one full-time" in order to address Britain's joblessness problem. Page also said when he asks people if they would like to have an extra week of vacation or a four-day work week, almost everyone raises a hand. "Most people like working, but they'd also like to have more time with their family or to pursue their own interests," he said.

Page also shared a number of insights about managing an innovative company and the pressures on today's chief executives. Speaking with a soft voice, a reminder of the vocal-cord issues he revealed last year, Page lamented that more business leaders don't (or can't) take a 20-year view when they plot the future of their companies.

Instead, they take something more like a four-year view, which he noted is about the average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO.

That short time horizon makes it challenging for leaders to grapple with big societal, technological or environmental shifts.

Page also spoke about the pressure many founders face to narrow the scope of their businesses.

Even Steve Jobs, he said, once told him, "You guys are doing too much stuff."

While he admits Jobs might be right, Page also said, "I think it sounds stupid if you have this big company, and you can only do five things," noting that it's not good for workers.

"You have 30,000 employees, and they're all doing the same thing, which isn't very exciting for them."

In an effort to simplify things at Google, Page suggested that the company take all of its rules and regulations and keep them at an easy-to-digest 50 pages.

He promoted the idea to the president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye.

"I said, 'Hey, why don't you just limit your laws and regulations to some set of pages? And when you add a page, you have to take one away.' She actually wrote this down. She's great."

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