"We are what we pretend to be," writes Kurt Vonnegut in the introduction to his 1961 novel Mother Night. It's a useful way to think about Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the young founders of Google, who three years ago articulated a core belief: "You can make money without doing evil."
Saying it was the first step toward living it, says Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of technology publisher O'Reilly & Associates. "The more vocally you say that, the more you force yourself to live up to it, and the more willing you are to aspire to something that matters."
From the start, Page and Brin, two friends who met while they were studying for their Ph.D.'s in computer science at Stanford and formed Google in 1998, sought to protect the purity of their search engine--they never sold rankings. "It is a core value for Google that there be no compromising of the integrity of our search results," reads the company's manifesto. "We never manipulate rankings to put our partners higher in our search results."
Not only that, but the duo didn't even like banner ads, pop-ups, or rich media ads. So they rejected them altogether. "They said, 'We hate those ads. We won't do them. We're going to do something else," says O'Reilly. "It turned out that they figured out an advertising method that worked better. And they ended up practically creating a new industry." Google's solution, AdWords, are tasteful (and clearly marked) keyword-targeted ads. Google is the third most popular site on all of the Internet, but the main page is clean and free of advertising.
Of course, there's a more basic reason to love Brin and Page: Google itself. Our own core belief is that life is better because of it.