Larry Page on the Toothbrush Test

Did you know the first toothbrush was invented over 500 years ago in China? We don’t know the individual who first came up with this hygienic gadget, but I wonder whether this unnamed hero developed the toothbrush based on its usefulness or potential financial gains? If he/she worked for Google, it would be the former.

Google’s CEO, Larry Page, is responsible for investing in and acquiring the next “it” technology. He reviews numerous opportunities knowing that every decision will be scrutinized by shareholders and the press. When determining how to best spend Google’s resources to acquire a company, Larry asks one question above all else:

Is it something you will use once or twice a day, and does it make your life better?

While seemingly rudimentary, this “toothbrush test” is unusual in that it appraises value over profitability, long-term use before immediate gain. As leaders, we should consider asking the same question.

Too often, we are focused on the short game – how much will this get me right now – that we lose sight of the big wins. If you are leading for long-term success, stop thinking so short-term. It cannot be completely avoided, but we need to carve out time for more strategic preparation.

Be warned; the pay off is not instantaneous. With patience, however, those who diligently seek value over profit will see this mentality bleed into their culture. The organization will garner a reputation for providing quality, thus generating a more loyal customer base. Wins will be sustainable. And your products will be something for which you can be proud.

Don’t base all of your decisions on the here and now. Think strategically into future ways to remain competitive. Use your own version of the toothbrush test to ensure that you and your team are working towards greatness. It may not provide immediate relief, but it’s less painful than a root canal.