Google co-founder Larry Page now runs a constellation of companies that tackle everything from searching the Internet to extending human life. So how does he figure out the next challenge to tackle?
It’s quite simple, actually.
“Is that thing really, really important?,” Page said at Fortune’s Global Forum conference in San Francisco on Monday. “Is it going to affect a lot, a lot of people?”
Page’s approach to charting the future of Google
and its parent Alphabet isn’t all that surprising, however—by his own admission. His company was created by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs.
After graduating from college, he worked for a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. and immediately knew that working in such a rigid environment would never suit him. He declined to name the firm, for obvious reasons.
“It wasn’t really that exciting, we were making software for other companies,” Page said.
As CEO of one of the biggest tech companies, he said he likes to ask a lot of questions of his employees to learn about what they do and how they do it. It gives him ideas, he said, for what projects to push next.
“I really like going and learning from the people that run our data centers,” Page said as an example. He recalled asking how the data centers get electricity, how long it takes to get transformers, and what they cost.
It’s helps him identify opportunities for developing better technology. Google is working on far-flung ideas like self-driving cars and high altitude balloons that serve as mobile Internet towers in the sky.
One piece of advice he hasn’t taken too seriously, however, was from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who told him not to work on too many things. “I mean he was right,” Page said of Jobs. “He did fine as well.”
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For more from Fortune editor Alan Murray’s interview with Larry Page, watch this video: