How did Google's daycare debacle happen?
John Sterlicchi, writing for the U.K.'s Guardian, just emailed me asking for my thoughts on "this Google daycare fiasco." (The short version: Google closed an outsourced daycare facility in favor of one run in-house, and hiked prices 70 percent, far above market rates; Googlers with kids in the facility, and those on the waitlist, are furious.) He asked: "If someone outside the environs of Google and Silicon valley was looking at this, what should they think? Is Google moving away from 'do no evil'?" Good questions. Here's what I just wrote him:
I think Google approached daycare the same way they did their in-house cafeterias — with an assumption, born of sheerest hubris, that an age-old business needed reinventing, and that the brains at Google could provide a value-add to a matter on which they really knew nothing at all.
What they forgot to consider: If you mess up a meal, you can throw it out and start over tomorrow. People take their children rather more seriously than their lunches.
That said, what Googlers are really upset about is not the outcome, but the process. The old Google culture was one where anyone's idea counted, and if you did the work and proved your point with numbers, you'd be listened to. Here, the process of gathering input seems to have been a farce, tacked on at the end for appearance's sake to a top-down decision.
Also ludicrous: Google is spending time and money on something it doesn't even advertise as a perk. Why is it in the childcare business again? It's not to attract talented employees; if anything, this "privilege" of spending too much money on needlessly luxurious childcare might drive employees away. So no one's well served: Not employees, not shareholders, and certainly not Google users.
This must seem utterly ludicrous to anyone not in the airtight bubble of Larry and Sergey's inner circle. In that rarefied atmosphere, "don't be evil" has become confused with "we can do no wrong."