What did Google do?

Reuters asked for an op-ed on the handover at Google. Here it is:

The miracle of Google was that it could accomplish anything—let alone become the fastest growing company in the history of the world and the greatest disruptive force in business and society today—while being run by a committee, a junta, a council of the gods.

In management, as in every other arena of business, technology, and media, Google broke every rule and made new ones.

It should not be a shock that Eric Schmidt has stepped aside as CEO and made room for Larry Page. Schmidt was the prince regent who ruled until the boy king could take the throne while training him to do so. We knew that this would happen. We just forgot that it would.

When I interviewed Schmidt a few weeks ago and asked about pressure over privacy, China, and lobbying, he said, “This is not the No. 1 crisis at Google.” What is? “Growth,” he said, “just growth.”

Scale is Google’s greatest skill and greatest challenge. It scaled search (vs. quaint Yahoo, which thought it could catalogue this web thing). It scaled advertising (vs. the media companies that today don’t know how to grow, only shrink). It is scaling mobile (by giving away Android). It has tried to scale innovation (with its 20 percent rule)—but that’s the toughest.

How does Google stay ahead of Facebook strategically? The war between the two of them isn’t over social. The next, great scalable opportunity and challenge is mobile, which in the end will translate into local advertising revenue. Mobile will give Google (or Facebook or Groupon or Twitter or Foursquare … we shall see) the signals needed to target content, services, search, and advertising with greater relevance, efficiency, and value than ever. As Schmidt told broadcasters in Berlin last year: “We know where you are. We know what you like.” Local is a huge, unclaimed prize. The question is how to scale sales.

I have no special insight into the Googleplex. But I have to imagine that when the company’s three musketeers sat down and asked themselves what impediments could restrain their innovation and growth, they were smart enough and honest enough to finally answer, “us.”

As well as their holy trinity worked setting strategy and reaching consensus—the one thing I did hear from inside Google was that nothing happened if they did not agree—it has become apparent that Google became less nimble and more clumsily uncoordinated.

Google is working on two conflicting and competing operating system strategies, Android and Chrome. It bungled the launches of Buzz and Wave, not to mention Google TV. It is losing talent to Facebook. It needs clearer vision and strategy and more decisive communication and execution of it.

If it’s obvious to us it had to be obvious to them that that couldn’t come from Largey-plus-Eric. Google, like its founders, is growing up. It needs singular management. So let’s hope that Schmidt did his most important job well—not managing but teaching.

Now we will watch to see who Larry Page really is and where his own vision will take Google. Will he give the company innovative leadership and can Sergey Brin give it leadership in innovation?

I imagine we will see a new support structure for Page built from below now rather than from the side. I’m most eager to see how he will cope with speaking publicly for the company. Schmidt’s geeky sense of humor was not grokked by media. (When he set off a tempest in the news teapot saying we should all be able to change our names at age 21 and start over with youthful indiscretions left behind us, he was joking, folks. Really, he was.) Page is even less show-bizzy.

As for Schmidt: I have gained tremendous respect for him as a manager, thinker, leader. His next act will likely surprise us more than this latest act.

* * *

And here’s my appearance on The Takeaway this morning:

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  • http://in.linkedin.com/in/vindiaservices Brijendra Dharampuria

    There is no doubt that Google has broke all previous business record regarding popularity and growth. I think in coming year Facebook and Google only be the two big business competitor in IT sectors.

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  • http://ARMdevices.net Charbax

    “It is losing talent to Facebook”

    Comon, we all know the Googlers who went with Facebook are not doing it because they prefer to work at Facebook, they do it to become instant multi-millionaires as taking the job at Facebook gives them instant stock options potentially worth tens of millions of dollars. Basically, those Googlers could switch to Facebook, do nothing whatsoever, still become multi-millionnaires as soon as Facebook goes public, then they can just quit again and go back to Google a few months later.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Of course, and that makes finding ways to hold onto the talent yet tougher.

  • Brian Gillespie

    Flat wrong. Increasingly Google’s actions have been seen as “Evil.” this bothers the founders. And the face of the “Evil” Google is that of Eric Schmidt. A return to the “Don’t do Evil” roots, was needed. Much to the credit of the founders Eric wasn’t thrown under the bus. Instead he was given his own car and sent in another direction. Now Larry is the new bus driver and his record is clean. Let’s see how long that lasts.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Don’t agree. Decisions were not made without Larry and Sergey.

  • Eric Gauvin


    So do you think this change is good or bad for google?

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  • http://www.deciminyan.org deciminyan

    How does the introduction of hardware (CR-48 laptop) play into Google’s strategy?

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      I think the CR-48 does not presage a business but instead and OS (browser-as-OS) model; proof of concept

    • Sebastian Stephenson

      My understanding is the hardware is demonstration hardware to show press what it is like to use chrome OS. There not getting into the hardware business. It has no commercial use.

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  • http://ShaverAssociates.net Robert Shaver

    Wall Street and stockholders expect all companies to grow forever. When you own a huge percentage of the market it gets even harder to grow.

    But what do I know. When I had Economics 101 back in about 1971, the first thing the instruction said was, “Everything we talk about assumes the economy will grow forever.” I didn’t hear anything after that because it is patently false.

    • http://pitchingmachinessupply.com Coach Knox

      this is something I figured out years ago. Unfortunately for business owners there is a ceiling to economic growth, even for the richest of companies. Thanks for pointing that out Robert.

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