grooming the next generation of the digital elite

An interesting extract from Steven Levy’s In The Plex about Google’s Associate Product Managers, a select group being groomed as future leaders. From page 3:

The APM program, I learned, was a highly valued initiative. To quote the pitch one of the participants made in 2006 to recent and upcoming college graduates: “We invest more into our APMs than any other company has ever invested into young employees…. We envision a world where everyone is awed by the fact that Google’s executives, the best CEOs in the Silicon Valley, and the most respected leaders of global non-profits all came through the Google APM program.” Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, told me, “One of these people will probably be our CEO one day—we just don’t know which one.” The eighteen APMs on the trip worked all over Google: in search, advertising, applications, and even stealth projects such as Google’s attempt to capture the rights to include magazines in its index. Mayer’s team, along with the APMs themselves, had designed the agenda of the trip.  

The trip involved all manner of team-building exercises intended to “increase the participants’ understanding of a technology or business issue, or make them more (in the parlance of the company) ‘Googley'”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this wasn’t a very diverse group. From page 4:

The most fascinating part of the trip was the time spent with the young Googlers. They were generally from elite colleges, with SAT scores approaching or achieving perfection. Carefully culled from thousands of people who would have killed for the job, their personalities and abilities were a reflection of Google’s own character. During a bus ride to the Great Wall of China, one of the APMs charted the group demographics and found that almost all had parents who were professionals and more than half had parents who taught at a university—which put them in the company of Google’s founders. They all grew up with the Internet and considered its principles to be as natural as the laws of gravity. They were among the brightest and most ambitious of a generation that was better equipped to handle the disruptive technology wave than their elders were. Their minds hummed like tuning forks in resonance with the company’s values of speed, flexibility, and a deep respect for data.

To what extent do these people come to see themselves as ‘future leaders’? What does this self-conception entail for how they conceive of the relationship between themselves and the world? I’m very interested in this discourse of ‘leadership’ having recently discovered the existence of ‘leadership camps’ to which ambitious American parents send their children.

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