Google Culture for Writers: How Julie Clow’s Work Revolution Promotes High Achievement

Editor’s Note: I’m pleased to feature this interview with author Julie Clow as part of the Winning Edits Expert Interview Series.

With a Ph.D. in behavioral analysis, Clow specializes in team effectiveness, leadership, organizational culture and development programs.

After eight years in a stiff, traditional corporate culture–followed by five years at Google—Clow condensed her learning about freedom and autonomy in careers and the workplace into the book, The Work Revolution.

Follow Clow on Twitter: @clowjul

Matt Gartland: Much of the organized working world is undergoing some form of transformation. What do you feel are the universal catalysts driving such change, and how does your new book The Work Revolution uniquely contribute to and positively influence this movement?

Julie Clow: First, the globalization of work is transforming our organizations so that work is now a 24-hour a day prospect. For the last 6 years, I’ve worked in organizations with colleagues sprinkled across the world in different offices, so work literally never stops. Second, the democratization of technology has accelerated the pace of innovation, and information overload is our new reality.

The Work Revolution starts with these catalysts as our new “given,” and much like a math formula, I suggest how we might solve for this new reality.

Our current workplace rules and assumptions no longer work, so I have proposed principles that can serve as our new guideposts for running organizations sustainably to engage employees and be wildly successful. This includes suggestions, such as ditching regular working hours and dress codes, in favor of focusing on the impact people are bringing to the organization. This concept, also called a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) by authors Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler, has been tried and tested many times over and is proving to be a viable way of adapting in our new reality.

MG: Your book appears oriented toward companies and organizations. Yet, the principles resonate with entrepreneurial and creative values. What can the entrepreneur and independent author learn about work and business from your book that relates to them?

JC: A huge transferable concept is that of energy rivers. Individually, we each have unique peak times in our days that we feel the most “on.” For me, that is NOT the morning, and I peak around 5 or 6 in the evening. Paying attention to our own energy and going with this flow instead of fighting it is a lesson we can all stand to learn.

Another big principle is focusing on the impact of your work, always. Get clear on what problem(s) you are trying to solve before jumping to any solutions. And constantly seek ways of making a bigger impact.

I’m also fond of the “small test” principle. That is, rather than spending time and energy trying to predict what ideas will work, get super creative about testing ideas in small ways to see what actually works. As a writer, that might mean writing a blog post on an idea and seeing how strong the response is. For me, it was speaking at conferences to share my ideas, and when my audiences expressed their enthusiasm in surprising ways, I knew I had to write the book.

MG: Sustaining high achievement is a powerful theme within your book. What parallels do you see between sustaining peak performance and achievement within companies and sustaining the same within startup enterprises and writing careers?

JC: Startup enterprises and independent writers have most of the same challenges for sustaining peak performance as companies do, except that they have an advantage: their work isn’t as prone to abstraction as is the case in companies. In other words, when you are in a startup, you know exactly what you are trying to achieve and why, which is something that often gets blurred in larger organizations.

However, everything else is the same. Prioritization is absolutely key – choose to do the things that will have the greatest impact and say no to things that don’t align with your strategy and strengths. Finding and taking advantage of rivers of energy and existing value are critical to anyone who is achievement-oriented.

Why work hard when you can find an easy way to get the same thing done? Peak performance is all about aligning your purpose with your strengths and figuring out what work will create the most impact within that framework.

MG: Your book promotes the adoption of new working philosophies, cultures and models by those organizations “lagging behind the promise of this open and collaborative world.” You write that “most organizations are rule-based, top-down, dreary environments optimized for conformity and little else.”

Having now experienced traditional publishing, and being aware of the publishing revolution, what do you feel the traditional publishers need to focus on changing to stay relevant and solvent in our digital age?

JC: I think there are two major focus areas. I don’t think that traditional publishers can look at themselves as “book makers” anymore. They will need to decide what business they are in. Are they content curators? If yes, then they must embrace multiple and new media formats outside of the paper-based books to publish the content. Are they creating beautiful design at the intersection of ideas and images? If yes, then they may still focus on the physical experience in the book format, but whom they publish will become more important and specific. There are many variations on this that have yet to be explored, but it will be important to put a stake in the ground about what they are really going to go after.

The second major consideration is experimentation. Publishers cannot be afraid to try new things, and try them often. I am very lucky to be published by Wiley, and I have an incredible team who is working with me to think wide and off the charts about how to promote the book. What I love is they are willing to try anything and work with me on it. That, to me, is key to surviving the disruption to the traditional business models.

MG: What’s the #1 piece of actionable advice you’d give to independent writers who want to embrace the self-publishing “work revolution” for both profit and pleasure?

JC: Pleasure has to come before profit. The people who find success publishing, whether independently or through a publisher, are those who have an authentic voice that resonates with a community of people. Because there is so much disruption going on in the book industry, it is risky going into a book project with the goal of making money. You’ve got to love what you are writing about utterly and completely, and only then will the rest follow. Maybe. 

Images provided by and used with permission from the interviewee.