Lessons From Luminaries: Eric Schmidt & Tyler Cowen on The Future of Technology & Society

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and Executive Chairman at Alphabet, is one of the most influential technology executives in the world. At Village Global, we are honored to have him among the small group of LP luminaries whose financial capital and engagement power our network of founders.

In September, we invited 150+ world-class entrepreneurs, investors, operators, and executives in our network to the heart of San Francisco to experience a VIP edition of Lessons From Luminaries. Click here to view the video of Eric and Tyler. Village founders and Network Leaders heard an in-depth conversation between Eric and Tyler Cowen, the renowned economist and author of multiple bestselling books, including “The Great Stagnation.” Eric spoke about scaling through systems, praise as an underrated management strategy, the value of luck, the future of sensors, overcoming failure and Google’s most important innovation: their hiring practices. After the fireside chat, both Eric and Tyler stayed for two private roundtable conversations with Village founders, Network Leaders, and other influential valley veterans to discuss the future of the internet, globalization, politics, and more.

Here’s what Eric shared the night of the event, a quote that came up in his private roundtable conversation.

Learning from Eric is one of the many ways Village Global portfolio founders get access to and obtain insights from some of the most celebrated luminary leaders in our industry. Here are a few of the insights that stood out from Eric and Tyler’s conversation.

Systems to Scale Google

While at Google, Eric saw the company grow from roughly 20 employees to over 60,000. Eric remarked that the only way to effectively unleash the startup’s unbounded potential was to implement systems. He said that most decision points can and should be codified with a set of concrete principles. Take hiring, for example. If you’re trying to scale, you should have a system for hiring, firing, and promoting. In the early days, Google famously interviewed candidates to exhaustion — and still couldn’t decide whether or not to hire the person! Eric recalls interviewing a potential engineer 16 times without making a decision. Eventually, the company realized through internal research that five interviews were enough, and Eric implemented a structure that helped allow managers to make better, faster decisions on personnel.

Praise is an Underrated Management Strategy

If Google’s most important innovation is their hiring practices, then retaining, developing and managing their top-talent is worthy of close analysis. Here’s what Eric had to say about the subtlety of using praise to keep employees engaged:

“There’s no simple formula for success, and there’s no simple formula for being a great leader. But it is well understood, that if you yell at people enough, they will quit, and if you’re nice enough to them, they are less likely to quit… It just seems to me that if you take a moment and you add the preamble of ‘Thank you’ or ‘I appreciate it’ or ‘I recognize it people’s hearts sing, and you get a lot more work out of them.”

Have an Adult in The Room, or a Phone-Booth…

Eric is famous for being hired by Larry and Sergey to be “the adult in the room.” Although Eric, at-one-time, did admit to having a slide in his office (see 17:09), most of the time he played the adult role with aplomb. Eric recalled a story of showing up to work and finding a phone-booth randomly set up in the middle of the room. He asked who purchased it, and no one knew. Eric realized that “there must have been a few extra credit cards in the company floating around…” He chose not to fire the eager spender…but to get rid of the extra credit cards.

In this conversation, Eric also engaged in the classic Tyler Cowen exercise of Underrated vs. Overrated. To hear his thoughts on:

  • Antarctica
  • Blockchain
  • Cezanne vs Picasso
  • Effective altruism
  • Yellowstone Park
  • The Cuban economy

Tune-in to minute 26 to hear Eric’s answers to that portion.

Eric spoke about the one reform he would like to see in corporate governance, his role in Village Global and how he stays up to date with venture capital trends.

Eric also discussed the continued extension of healthy human lifespans. He believes that every few years we will add roughly one more year of life stating that “a child born in 2030 or 2040 could have a lifespan of about 100.” Advances in “antibiotics, better water, later life medical care, cancer, heart [treatments] and so forth,” have enabled this growth. That said, there seems to be a natural asymptote to nature’s design. It is unlikely that we will live drastically longer through these advances alone.

Below are photos and tweets shared after the event.

You can watch the full conversation here.



Want More Lessons From Our Luminaries?

Click here to watch videos of Reid Hoffman, Sara Blakely, Ben Silbermann, John Donahoe, and Kat Cole at recent Village Global events.

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