When you think of working for Google, you think of sitting on a yoga mats and munching on an organic salad while your coworker cartwheels by to drop off a memo.

they even have foosball!

It seems like heaven while you’re drinking two-day-old coffee at your incredibly uncomfortable gray particleboard desk where your boss just dumped a stack of files that need to be done by the end of the day, right?

According to Avery Pennarun, a Google Fiber engineer, it may not be as great as you think.

Pennarun begins by bragging how smart Google employees are. For any smarter-than-average kid who has had to go through public school, this may seem like a blessing.

But when you get that many smart people in one place—it’s a recipe for disaster.

Pennarun says:

Smart people have a problem, especially (although not only) when you put them in large groups. That problem is an ability to convincingly rationalize nearly anything.

Oddly, the smarter someone is, the more confident they will feel in explaining something well past its ability to be explained. Which is frustrating enough if you’re the parent of a smart child who tries to explain everything, and really frustrating if you have an employee that won’t accept blame.

For example: what happens when a project doesn’t work? Google has their share of failures, from Google+ (social network nobody used) to Google Wave (real-time project editing nobody used).

this gives me anxiety just to look at.  also, it’s in swedish

Pennarun explains:

It’s a setup that makes it very easy to describe all your successes (project not canceled) in terms of your team’s greatness, and all your failures (project canceled) in terms of other people’s capriciousness. End users and profitability, for example, rarely enter into it. This project isn’t supposed to be profitable; we benefit whenever people spend more time online. This project doesn’t need to be profitable; we can use it to get more user data. Users are unhappy, but that’s just because they’re change averse. And so on.

Bottom line: according to Google engineers, it’s your damn fault you’re not using their brilliant new product because their brilliant new product is perfect unlike you, flawed human, who simply won’t CHANGE.

Which is ironic, because the types of employees that work at Google, according to Pennarun, are the ones who have the most trouble with change:

If you know all the constraints and weights – with perfect precision – then you can use logic to find the perfect answer. But when you don’t, which is always, there’s a pretty good chance your logic will lead you very, very far astray.
Most people find this out pretty early on in life, because their logic is imperfect and fails them often. But really, really smart computer geek types may not ever find it out. They start off living in a bubble, they isolate themselves because socializing is unpleasant, and, if they get a good job straight out of school, they may never need to leave that bubble. To such people, it may appear that logic actually works, and that they are themselves logical creatures.

Think about it. You go to school. You quietly rise to the top of the class. You prefer working by yourself to working with others. You only have yourself to blame for failure. But you don’t fail because you’re smart and can generally work through whatever comes your way. You’re in your early 20s, you’re out of college, and you’ve never left your tiny island of solitude where the real world doesn’t exist. And now you work at a place with other people who had that exact same upbringing. Your average user is not one of your coworkers across the “campus” from you. It’s a mom in Omaha looking up recipes. It’s a coach in Sheffield looking up the latest World Cup score. It’s an elderly man in Mexico City trying to see what all this fuss is about online. These people don’t care much about a new social network or real-time work-edit program. And you can’t rationalize them away by saying “well, the old man will die soon, the coach isn’t educated enough to use our product and at least we got the mom’s data when she signed up for a Google+ nobody uses”.

Pennarun calls this a curse:

What I have learned, working here, is that smart, successful people are cursed. The curse is confidence. It’s confidence that comes from a lifetime of success after real success, an objectively great job, working at an objectively great company, making a measurably great salary, building products that get millions of users. You must be smart. In fact, you are smart. You can prove it.

Confidence, and eventually arrogance, eventually collides with reality. And the results aren’t pretty.

Ironically, one of the biggest social problems currently reported at work is lack of confidence, also known as Impostor Syndrome. People with confidence try to help people fix their Impostor Syndrome, under the theory that they are in fact as smart as people say they are, and they just need to accept it.

To a really smart person, everything you do is an extension of yourself. A normal person who makes a stupid choice is more likely to admit, “you know what? I failed. I will try something else”. A smart person is more likely to say that everything they did is right and you’re wrong—because their intelligence is validated only by what they do. They grew up knowing they were smart and being told they were smart. Failure is not an option.

Until they reach a crisis where their intelligence is challenged. Then—their whole world just breaks. “Maybe I’m not as smart as everyone says I am?” they wonder. “Maybe I’m stupid. Maybe I’m a phony, working here around all these smart people, pretending to be smart!” That’s Impostor Syndrome.

Screenshot 2014-07-07 09.12.59

you can tell who this affects just by seeing the second result on Google

Impostor Syndrome, or lack of confidence, may be the key to making companies like Google (lots of smart people unwilling to accept blame or admit fault working in one place):

Impostor Syndrome is that voice inside you saying that not everything is as it seems, and it could all be lost in a moment. The people with the problem are the people who can’t hear that voice.

The 20th century was won on a combination of intelligence, improvisation, and guts. One failed without the other. World War II, for example, was won with brilliant military leadership willing to improvise along with “the Greatest Generation” of hardworking soldiers who gave it all. On the contrary, our smartest minds got us into Vietnam, and while we had valiant soldiers, we were unwilling to improvise or stomach the war at home.

When you look at Google, it’s like one big experiment. At few points in history has that much IQ been concentrated in one place for peaceful ends. The result is a constant struggle for a group of smart people to understand the real world.

Screenshot 2014-07-07 09.14.50

for instance, letters aren’t that big in the real world

Makes that gray office desk with the stack of files you should be working on instead of reading this seem a lot better in comparison.

too smart