Eric Schmidt told us what managers should really focus on in 2019

05 December 2018 -

Eric SchmidtThe former chief executive of Google has these business lessons for leaders

CMI Insights

Renowned business leader Eric Schmidt has called for an overhaul of recruitment, working culture and technology to support the next generation of managers and leaders.

The former chief executive of Google and executive chairman of Alphabet revealed what he believed to be the leadership priorities for UK employers aiming to drive innovation and growth, in a landmark speech.

Schmidt was the lead speaker at the inaugural Centre for Entrepreneurs’ (CFE) Annual Lecture in London. He used the platform to urge employers and universities to develop more entrepreneurs to solve the world’s biggest problems.

Here are the points you need to know:


Eric Schmidt reminded assembled guests – including the founder of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners Lee – that innovation can strike at any time.

“If you think about the stereotype of an entrepreneur, there is a stereotype of a trendy hipster type in a glamorous co-working space in Shoreditch. I’m happy that Google helped establish that fiction by virtue of creating Google campus, but that’s not how innovation works,” Schmidt joked. “Innovation occurs from everywhere.”

As a starting point, Schmidt called for managers to hire a diverse workforce to encourage entrepreneurial thinking.

“Diversity, inclusion and openness – building teams that are of that nature – are essential to winning in this battle,” he said. “It is not going to happen by… hiring only white males. It’s not how it works. It may have worked 200 years ago, but it doesn’t work now.”

Need advice on how to create inclusive workforces? Here’s the CMI’s report on Delivering Diversity.


Also wading into the debate about whether sector-specific experience is necessary, Schmidt called for managers to be intellectually curious and apply their talents liberally.

“If we go back to the Renaissance, there were these thinkers – the scientists and the artists and entrepreneurs – who shifted our view of the world. Why can’t we get that talent back?”

He added: “We have to find them, we have to encourage them, and most importantly we have to listen to them. They often come in odd places. They are often gifted in ways that are unusual.”

British universities in particular, are well placed to nurture such talents, he insisted.

“I think that they can be achievers in many different areas. No one tried to put Leonardo da Vinci into a silo. We need to have more such people. I call them ‘polymaths’, you can call them whatever you want. The British educational system is unusually good at producing these people. You have an oversupply of candidates to do this.”


Schmidt believes that working practices can be put in place to encourage entrepreneurial ideas – and will boost the bottom line of a business.

“One of the things I learned at Google is that you can’t know innovation, but you can systematise it. You can see the pattern over and over again. Imagine [if] the leading universities, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists could figure out a way to get an innovation process where there is a constant list of new ideas… If you do that, then the ‘money’ is much more likely to show up. The money will show up where the ideas and the entrepreneurs are. Partly because the money doesn’t want to miss out on the ideas.”

In the CMI 21st Century Leaders Report universities revealed that new programmes such as self-employed placement years that support and develop entrepreneurs are already in place. Entrepreneurialism was a priority within business education for many academics across the country.


The impact of artificial intelligence on management has been discussed by CMI Companions this year, with some concluding that AI could help to create so-called ‘super-managers’. For Schmidt, AI could solve the UK’s productivity puzzle.

“When you look at automation, it is about tasks not jobs. Until the point when the robot shows up and can replace you and me on stage – which is not any time soon – the [main] issue is [about] essentially replacing routine tasks.”

Schmidt thinks this could improve our wellbeing at a time when the workload of the average manager means they work 44 days of overtime per year.

“The evidence is that people, on balance, do better working with computers; their salaries are higher and their emotional happiness overall is higher.”


When there are problems at work, it’s unlikely that they can be solved by any one industry or person alone. Therefore, managers must support a ‘systems approach’ that integrates people and knowledge from different disciplines. Schmidt didn’t always do this at Google.

“It is often difficult in companies because founders are very certain, and they miss things. In the early years of Google, we didn’t really value the User Interface design (UI) people because our UI was pretty simple and seemed to work just fine. Today, Google and other tech companies have these large UI functions because the design of how their apps work is central to their adoption and their success.

“There are all sorts of other issues when you design these systems. What are you doing about conscious, unconscious and institutional biases [for example]? You will get caught [out] if you actually have them and you don’t police them."


As Brexit deal debates continue, Schmidt put faith in managers with an international mindset.

“I don't know what the future for Britain holds, but I’m sure the successful companies in Britain will be global companies,” he mused. “The way to think about it is, if you’re a British firm, you’re recruiting globally, you're producing for a global market and ideally you'll have operations everywhere.”

Inspired by this tech leaders views on management? Here’s 20 more lessons we learned about leadership in 20 years of Google

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