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I took my team down south to Googleplex today. In part, because I think some of them were curious to see it, but it was also a business meeting and I learned a lot of cool things, some of which I specifically promised I would not blog about!

I’ve been to Google many times before, and what strikes me everytime is the little things they do to create a – for lack of a better term – “wacky” environment. Of course, everyone knows about the lava lamps, exercise balls and free food. But these things, by themselves, do not create a fun environment. In fact, if that’s as far as it went, it would really seem more like a facade.

As an example of a faux-fun environment, consider Yahoo’s campus. Yes they have ‘crazy’ purple and yellow color schemes everywhere, free coffee, a sand volleyball court, and creatively named conference rooms. But these are all things that are just too obvious. It’s just lip service.

To really create a cool culture, you have to do what Google does – innovate wackiness. Here are ten examples I saw on my trip today that prove the point:

1. Google’s conference rooms all have theme names (not unlike Yahoo). Where Google differs, however, is that theme actually determines conference room location. For example, in the building we were in today, all of the conference rooms were named after major African cities. The conference room layout was actually geographically correct. In other words, conference rooms in the western part of the building were named after West African cities, conferences in the eastern part were named after East African cities, and so on.

2. Instead of holding a “bring your daughter to work” day, this program was ingeniusly entitled “Introduce a girl to engineering” day.

3. Google conference rooms have microphones built into the tables.

4. Instead of plastic spoons in the cafeteria, the utensils were (allegedly) made out of potatoes.

5. There are random things scattered throughout the buildings, like a lone exercise bike, massage chairs, and doors leading to nowhere.

6. The urinals were shaped in a cool circular fashion. There was also a shelf in the bathroom for people to keep their toothbrushes.

7. Google has constructed temporary rooms out of some sort of cloth that looks like an igloo.

8. The tech support office has a neon sign that says “Open 24/7”.

9. Google has purchased dozens of motorized scooters that employees can use to go from building to building (and it looks like you can just leave the scooter in front of a building when you are done with it).

10. Every visitor is given a brown paper bag – 50% of the bags contain gummi worms, 40% contain flour, and 10% contain $200 in cash.

These little things are impressive because most of them were probably the harebrained idea of an employee, who innocuously suggested it and was shocked a few weeks later to see it actually implemented. What’s important about this, though, is that it really creates a culture where employees feel a) empowered and b) that good and innovative ideas are encouraged and recognized.

Google has grown a lot since the days of one small office building, a meager cafeteria, and a non-existent revenue model. No doubt the culture has changed a lot (for example, you actually need a key to get into the cafeteria these days . . .). But kudos to Google for doing a great job of “keeping it real” and creating a culture that is driven by employee ideas. It may sound like potato-powered forks isn’t a big deal, but I really think that that sort of thing is what may keep Google one step ahead of its competitors for some time to come.

Oh, and one more thing, item #10 on the list is fake. It would be pretty cool though, as long as I didn’t get the flour . . .