Google’s greatest skill – and challenge
By Jeff Jarvis
Jarvis is the author of “What Would Google Do?” and teaches at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His next book, “Public Parts”, will be published later this year.
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 yesterday’s act.
Photos, Top: Surfboards lean against a wall at the Google office in Santa Monica, California, October 11, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Bottom: Larry Page, Google co-founder, listens as Google CEO Eric Schmidt (R) talks to reporters at the Sun Valley Inn in Sun Valley, Idaho July 9, 2009. REUTERS/Rick Wilking