Marissa Mayer, the 21st Century's Pointy-Haired Boss

"Scarcity brings clarity," says Marissa Mayer, the blonde cyborg who runs Google's search engine, in a BusinessWeek interview. She makes fun of Dilbert-style managers — but in reality, she shows how she's turned into one.

Mayer, a striking Midwestern blonde with a nerdy laugh, was employee No. 20 at Google, and she eagerly grabbed authority as she rose from engineer to director to vice president. (Google is stingy with titles, so an executive slot there is vastly harder to get than at, say, a bank, where even a branch manager can be a VP.)

But what, exactly, does she do? She works long hours, she tells interviewers. But it's not clear what she spends her time on. Spreadsheets of cupcake recipes? Employees report that she's famous for not preparing for meetings, making spur-of-the-moment decisions on products based on five-minute presentations.

And how does she make her decisions? Based on the "user experience," which pretty much means whatever Mayer thinks is right. Oh, sure, she goes through mounds of data — but anyone who's worked with spreadsheets knows there's always a way to make the numbers say what you want them to say.

Sadly, Google has become the icon of businesspeople everywhere, even as its brand fades with consumers. They see the billions of profits its search-advertising monopoly generates, and figure executives like Mayer must be smart rather than lucky.

So get ready to hear "scarcity brings clarity" when your budget is cut, and "user experience" cited as the reason when your project is cancelled. From your boss's mouth, they'll be insincere canards, repeated rotely as the buzzwords of the moment. But were they that freighted with meaning when Mayer first said them?