Greatness and Challenge


When a company is number one on the Fortune magazine list of “100 Best Companies to Work For,” it should hardly be surprising that the culture in their office would be palpably positive.  Still I wondered on my way to the grand opening of Google’s new offices in Ann Arbor, exactly what would be most striking about their place.  They grab you at hello, as the décor is totally fun, starting with the finger-painted handprints of each employee on the walls in the main lobby.  Sponge Bob’s, Supermen, and Mr. Potato Heads (he is the customary gift to new employees) were popping their heads above the bullpen of cubicles.  It is also true that there is a lot of food around, and coolers with soft drinks and energy drinks, and cutting edge cappuccino machines – all free!  The people were young and the mood was upbeat.

I was most taken by two other things.  Google came to Ann Arbor for talent, and walking around and talking to the Nooglers (that’s a new Googler), they got it.  An impressive ex-Marine.  A woman who chose Ann Arbor over her husband’s home town of Paris (yes, that would be France).  A whole lot of high achievers.

The top Googler there was David Fischer, in from California to address the troops.  Two lines from David struck me — for the content, but especially for the passion with which he delivered them.  He said people are impressed with what Google has accomplished, but at Google they don’t spend much time thinking about that.  We are most focused and most excited about what we are going to do in the future, he said.  The other point that he made was that the standards for everyone there are high.  And each of those talented people they hired – with incredibly diverse backgrounds – was hired in large part because they are people who want challenge.  Challenge gets them geeked up; challenge and the resultant creativity are at the core of what makes Google a great place to work.

Too often we forget the value of challenge.  I have given many speeches about my book, Everyday Leadership: Getting Results in Business Politics and Life*, during which I engage the audience around the topic of energy.  I lead them in a high-speed brainstorm on things to do to increase the level of energy in a group.  People have lots of great ideas: smile, reward, encourage, listen, help out, get some small wins, etc.   But what groups almost never say is CHALLENGE!  Yet it’s challenge that often gets people going.  For example:  tell someone “it’s never been done before,” or “we only have 15 minutes left,” or “no one believes we can accomplish it.”  Google has that indefatigable spirit.  And let me repeat: it is in large part challenge that makes Google a great place to do work.

Do you challenge your folks?  How often do you raise the bar for those around you?  Might your shop be a better place to work if you engaged with your people to set some great goals?  By the way you’ll enjoy your own work a lot more if you set high standards, so that you have to…

Lead with your best self,


* You can find and order my book, Everyday Leadership, as well as some of my favorite books on leadership at

  • You might consider the content of my book, Prepared and Resolved as a serious reference to the challenges of leadership at every level in this more technical and collaborative economic world.

    The “strategic agenda” as we define it accepts the challenges of a more complex and ambiguous environment, and it presents a realistic foundation for growth, performance and change. Context is critical in leadership and management dispersion in companies, in government and in the new realm of public/private business.

    Check out pages 28 – 29, 47 – 48, 72 – 73 and 198 – 200 of this book, and you may see some parallels to your thinking, but with a more dynamic bias toward the entreship and collaboration mindset that powers innovation, redevelopment and organizational change.



    Daniel Wolf
    Dewar Sloan

    231.929.4545 – o
    231.883.4515 – m

  • Here’s a challenge. Try teaching students (8th grade or High School seniors..take your pick) one week prior to graduation day! It’s a challenge that requires constant creative energy.

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