Merrill is featured in the latest issue of Men’s Health Magazine as part of its “To-Do List” cover package of tips to improve your life this year. The CIO of Google is billed as “The World’s Most Organized Man” and photographed in an outfit that might be more appropriate for Rolling Stone: jet-black rocker T-shirt, skinny jeans and long, brown hair falling into his eyes. You can’t tell for sure, but there’s a hint of rock-hard abs under that shirt, and if his biceps aren’t bulging, they’re not exactly sagging, either.
“Merill looks like he just ordered his second glass of Merlot at a blues club,” the Men’s Health feature fawns, contrasting him with the stereotype of the balding, pudgy CIO type. “He has just one assistant. He carries an iPhone but often travels without a laptop. He looks well-rested and fit.” And only seven per cent of his 6’4”, 183-pound manliness isn’t muscle. Who better to offer organizational advice?
Once you get past the eye candy, Merrill’s suggestions sound a lot more like a Google product pitch. He recommends “scaffolds” that give you access to information the way real scaffolds allow you to scale a building under construction. These are tools such as Google Calendar, Gmail and Docs. (Men’s Health admits there are others out there, but doesn’t go to the bother of mentioning them.) More interestingly, Merrill dares to use the cloud computing metaphor to explain how Men’s Health readers can simply store everything they need to find later online. This, of course, helps justify the efforts of companies such as Google, IBM and others to build out data centres to create their own real estate within the cloud.
Merrill’s best ideas, however, had little to do with technology. First, he recommended that everyone recognize the limits to human memory and not attempt to rely on total recall. His last point was to turn organization of information into a collective effort. “My job is essentially to hire great people with fascinating, unusual backgrounds and facilitate their working together,” he said.
I wonder how many other CIOs would describe their role like that. If they did, they might help their staff and coworkers understand that the real enterprise search engines are the minds of every employee, and that figuring out a way to foster collaboration and share knowledge is the ultimate algorithm. Merrill’s appearance in Men’s Health could be a fluke, but I also hope it’s a turning point in the public image of an information technology professional. If so, then 2008 could be the year we all start getting in better shape.