Tag Archives: method


Tortoise Tuesday: Methodology in Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s Letter Regarding the Future of Google

On December 3 2019, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin shocked the technology sector by resigning from their roles as CEO and President of Alphabet, Google’s parent holding company, respectively. Such an immense and symbolic change in leadership at one of the largest companies in the world could very well raise significant concerns regarding the future of the company among employees and the general public. However, Page and Brin excellently frame this change as the natural and necessary next step in Google’s evolution in a joint blog post announcing the leadership change by employing a methodology that draws heavily upon many of the company’s founding documents.

Immediately at the beginning of the post, Page and Brin present an excerpt of their first founders’ letter to highlight Google’s mission, core service and company values, and they proceed to argue that these core tenets have persisted throughout the company’s history and continue to do so. In so doing, the two technology visionaries abstract the company’s livelihood from their personal involvement with the company; while Google originally depended on Page and Brin to shape the company, the initial roadmap created by the two founders has continued to shape company over the years. This continuity is inherent to Google’s mission as a company and not directly tied to Page or Brin.

Having drawn a distinction between the involvement of the founders within the company and the company’s livelihood, Page and Brin go on to present an excerpt from a second founders’ letter that compares the evolution of Google to that of a human being. The founders eloquently argue that the company has reached young adulthood and that it is time for them to “assume the role of proud parents.” By drawing a comparison between the change in leadership and the natural life cycle of a human, Page and Brin frame a seemingly monumental shift in company history as a natural occurrence, arguably a non-event. This is further compounded by the extension of a metaphor originally created 15 years ago. Through this methodology, Page and Brin reassure Google employees and the general public that the company is well poised to continue to execute its mission and that their resignation is the natural next phase in Google’s progress as a company.

— Nick Johnson ’20

Excerpt from Blog Post:

Our very first founders’ letter in our 2004 S-1 began:

“Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one. Throughout Google’s evolution as a privately held company, we have managed Google differently. We have also emphasized an atmosphere of creativity and challenge, which has helped us provide unbiased, accurate and free access to information for those who rely on us around the world.”

We believe those central tenets are still true today. The company is not conventional and continues to make ambitious bets on new technology, especially with our Alphabet structure. Creativity and challenge remain as ever-present as before, if not more so, and are increasingly applied to a variety of fields such as machine learning, energy efficiency and transportation. Nonetheless, Google’s core service—providing unbiased, accurate, and free access to information—remains at the heart of the company.


Our second founders’ letter began:

“Google was born in 1998. If it were a person, it would have started elementary school late last summer (around August 19), and today it would have just about finished the first grade.”

Today, in 2019, if the company was a person, it would be a young adult of 21 and it would be time to leave the roost. While it has been a tremendous privilege to be deeply involved in the day-to-day management of the company for so long, we believe it’s time to assume the role of proud parents—offering advice and love, but not daily nagging!


Methodology in Evicted

One day on a whim, Arleen stopped by the Housing Authority and asked about the [housing assistance] List. A woman behind the glass told her, “The List is frozen.” On it were over 3,500 families who had applied for rent assistance four years earlier. Arleen nodded and left with hands in her pockets. It could have been worse. In larger cities like Washington, DC, the wait for public housing was counted in decades. In those cities, a mother of a young child who put her name on the List might be a grandmother by the time the application was reviewed.

Most poor people in America were like Arleen: they did not live in public housing or apartments subsidized by vouchers. Three in four families who qualified for assistance received nothing.

If Arleen wanted public housing, she would have to save a month worth of income to repay the Housing Authority for leaving her subsidized apartment without giving notice; then wait two to three years until the List unfroze; then wait another two to five years until her application made it to the top of the pile; then pray to Jesus that the person with the stale coffee and heavy stamp reviewing her file would somehow overlook the eviction record she’d collected while trying to make ends meet in the private housing market on a welfare check. (59-60)

Evicted, by Matthew Desmond. Broadway Books 2016.


Professor Desmond is teaching a class called Poverty in America (SOC 207) this semester. For this week, we read the first part of his book on eviction, one of the most common issues facing poor communities in the United States. The book won the Pulitzer Prize, was a New York Times bestseller, and received lots of attention from the press because it is both well-written and well-researched. Notably, the research was not just done in a library. As a sociologist, Desmond also did fieldwork. He went out into communities in order to interview and interact with people who face some of the problems related to eviction.

Professor Desmond’s book is a wonderful example of the benefits of conducting ethnographic research and how it can be used to give a more holistic understanding of the issues at hand. Statistics can report the basic numerical facts, but if one has not experienced it, it is hard to have an understanding of what being evicted actually looks like from numbers alone. Desmond uses his detailed observations and his knack for storytelling to give the statistical skeleton some meat. His quotes and the situations in the book are all nonfiction, as Desmond says in his author’s note, yet he is able to use particularly telling moments to get his point across.

In this passage, Desmond explains the problems with trying to take advantage of public housing, which could theoretically be an alternative to the private rental market. Desmond tells the statistical story by following Arleen into the Housing Authority when she asks about getting on a list to receive rent assistance. After the reader hears the woman in the Housing Authority tell Arleen that the list is frozen, Desmond is able to explain to us what that means and why it might be frozen. Most effectively, I think, Desmond uses Arleen in a conditional paragraph to explain all of the steps Arleen would have had to go through to get public housing. Arleen has been established as an individual whom we know, but here, Desmond uses her to stand in for anyone who might want to go through this process. In this way, we understand this long, bureaucratic process in reference to our character Arleen.

This deft movement between the large and small scales is worth examining and emulating. Learning how to use particular examples, to have the material being analyzed speak for itself in order to prove a larger point, is important for writing in all disciplines.

–Tess Solomon ’21


Tortoise Tuesday: Methodology in Hamilton

With the Grammys on Sunday, Hamilton has been on my mind. While Annabel Barry ’19 has previously commented on motive in Hamilton, I’d like to focus this week’s Tortoise Tuesday on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s methodology in telling Alexander Hamilton’s story.

What is most intriguing about Hamilton is of course, its subject: America’s “forgotten” founding father. But a little over 3 years after Hamilton’s release, a Google Trends comparison between Alexander Hamilton and his counterparts shows that he is anything but “forgotten”. Interest clearly spiked in August 2015, as Hamilton made its Broadway debut.

If Lin-Manuel Miranda’s motive in writing Hamilton was to draw attention to Alexander Hamilton’s story, then he has clearly succeeded where others have not. After all, Alexander Hamilton has been the subject of hundreds of thousands of biographies and documentaries. What sets Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work apart is his creative methodology, specifically his use of the musical format.

Starting with a supposedly forgotten subject, as opposed to a more familiar figure, such as George Washington, Miranda had his work cut out for him. The audience enters unassuming, possibly skeptical of a historical musical set in the 1700s (that is, if they haven’t read the glowing reviews yet). However, using a musical — not just any musical but a rap musical — Miranda inserts vibrant elements of artistry, nearly disguising the fact that, at its core, Hamilton is a historical account.

What makes a musical a good methodology? Musicals are similar to television in the sense that you typically don’t expect or wish to gain a history lesson from watching an episode of your favorite drama. However, unlike television, musicals are able to subtly insert otherwise dry historical information in the form of song lyrics. Hamilton capitalizes on this opportunity, leaving the audience with a number of catchy, jazzy, eclectic songs to listen to on repeat, lyrics that easily rival even the “best” of rap, and most importantly, without even realizing it… a newfound interest in and knowledge about Alexander Hamilton.

While not everyone may be able to write and produce a musical to communicate their R3 or senior thesis, I challenge you to think more openly about methodology in your next piece of academic or personal writing. What is the best, most engaging way to communicate your research, your analysis, your argument, your interests? It may just be a musical.

— Ellie Shapiro ’21

Feature, Spring 2017

Designing Indigeneity: French Polynesian Tifaifai as Homelands and Knowledge Systems

In a TortoiseshellThis is not only an exemplary R3, but also a phenomenal research paper in general. The piece is expertly structured, argued coherently, and uses an unorthodox (yet well-explained) method to analyze specific cultural artifacts. The overarching question is identity formation through artistic creation in French Polynesia, a provocative topic that is — as the author claims at the end — not exclusive to this part of the world.

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