Contempt for the glue people

The clip below is from a lecture from 2008(?) that then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave to a Stanford class.

Here’s a transcript, emphasis mine.

When I was at Novell, I had learned that there were people who I call “glue people”. The glue people are incredibly nice people who sit at interstitial boundaries between groups, and they assist in activity. And they are very, very loyal, and people love them, and you don’t need them at all.

At Novell, I kept trying to get rid of these glue people, because they were getting in the way, because they slowed everything down. And every time I get rid of them in one group, they’d show up in another group, and they’d transfer, and get rehired and all that.

I was telling Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] this one day, and Larry said, “I don’t understand what your problem is. Why don’t we just review all of the hiring?” And I said, “What?” And Larry said, “Yeah, let’s just review all the hiring.” And I said, “Really?” He said, “Yes”.

So, guess what? From that moment on, we reviewed every offer packet, literally every one. And anybody who smelled or looked like a glue person, plus the people that Larry and Sergey thought had backgrounds that I liked that they didn’t, would all be flagged.

[Edit (2023-04-02): I originally incorrectly transcribed the word “flagged” as “fired”.]

I first watched this lecture years ago, but Schmidt’s expressed contempt for the nice and loyal but useless glue people just got lodged in my brain, and I’ve never forgotten it. For some reason, this tweet about Google’s various messaging services sparked my memory about it, hence this post.

2 thoughts on “Contempt for the glue people

  1. I’ve also been thinking for years about this expression. Removing glue people means fostering silos. I have the impression managers like silos and employees hate it (and employees help themselves getting things done by working with and supporting glue people). So why silos? Aren’t managers interested in getting things done? Does a silo-less org come with less controls and power for management? I don’t really get it. Would love a discussion about it.

  2. I was confused reading Schmidt’s description (or maybe just trying to be generous) whether the “glue” referred to how these people bind different groups (“sit at interstitial boundaries”), or their bureaucratic skills at the expense of the organization (difficult to get rid of them), or their tar-like characteristics (they slow everything down). Three very different things!

    But I fear he meant the first kind of glue, which is to my mind an absolutely positive attribute to have and to cultivate, and it baffles me that Google would look for everybody who even smells like that kind of person and fire them without further cause.

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