I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59
As dawn was breaking on the 21st century, I unknowingly crossed a historic threshold. I mouse-clicked on a newly acquired screen icon featuring a large white lower-case "g" asymmetrically pasted onto a background of childlike primary colors.
"I can Google that," I told myself in answer to a long-forgotten question. Yes, I'd just used Google as a verb! There was no turning back; I'd been captured by the whimsical power of an online enfant terrible created by über-geeks Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Its iconic logo has become an almost daily prelude to vast revelations of fact, fiction, myth, mystery, inspiration, and the location of the new café my girlfriend was raving about last week.
"I'M FEELING LUCKY is randomly unpredictable, charming, startling, intuitive, gracious, hilarious, elegant....and just about every other extreme creative adjective you care to throw at it."
You get the idea --- and so does ex-Google employee Douglas Edwards, author of I'M FEELING LUCKY, the first truly "insider" account of how Silicon Valley's most unlikely success conquered the world.
Edwards' official job description at Google between 1999 and 2005 was director of consumer marketing and brand management. In plain English, he was the person responsible for reaching everyone "out there" beyond the hyperventilated subculture of the company think-pod. His mission was to make you, me, and every other human being on the planet eager to use Google as a verb.
But even with 400 pages to play with, our witty and acute author cautions that the complexity and way-out weirdness of the self-consciously non-hierarchical Google organization cannot be tidily contained in a sequential, logical and orderly literary package. Even the most revealing memoir can barely paint a two dimensional picture of a multi-dimensional and constantly morphing organism that continues to defy the normal rules of business psychology and mass marketing. Edwards actually recommends dipping into I'M FEELING LUCKY at random and reading it in any order you like; I did (after doing it the old-fashioned way), and he's right.
Like the dot com phenomenon it tries to capture and make sense of, I'M FEELING LUCKY is randomly unpredictable, charming, startling, intuitive, gracious, hilarious, elegant, urbane, confusing, grotesque, hysterical, maddening...and just about every other extreme creative adjective you care to throw at it. But what it is not is careless, vindictive, whiney, malicious or self-aggrandizing.
If anything, Edwards is generously honest, understanding and humane about the extraordinary menagerie of real-life characters who collectively consumed his personal and family life for more than six years. No wonder it took half a decade back on the "outside" to put this absorbing and incredibly detailed account together.
In essence, Google is a contemporary story with a clear historical beginning, a ferociously energetic and ongoing middle, and an end that's nowhere in sight. Edwards passed through some of its most challenging and productive formative years, remaining intellectually receptive, humble and sane enough to appreciate the power of what he'd witnessed. Google, warts and all, should be thankful he was there.
Most of us at some point in the past decade or so became "Googled" and probably didn't even realize it. Nevertheless, if the world's most famous and eccentrically conceived search engine were to suddenly disappear, it would cause an unimaginable tsunami of deprivation.
Go get this book. Hit Run. Let its elegantly seductive "program" percolate through your brain. Reflect. Enjoy. Repeat as necessary.
Reviewed by Pauline Finch on July 12, 2011