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 ofÂ Journalism. His next book, “Public Parts”, will be published later this year.
The miracle of Google was that it could accomplish anythingâ€”let alone become theÂ fastest growing company in the history of the world and the greatest disruptiveÂ force in business and society todayâ€”while being run by a committee, a junta, aÂ council of the gods.
In management, as in every other arena of business, technology, and media, GoogleÂ broke every rule and made new ones.
It should not be a shock that Eric Schmidt has stepped aside as CEO and made roomÂ for Larry Page. Schmidt was the prince regent who ruled until the boy king couldÂ take the throne while training him to do so. We knew that this would happen. WeÂ just forgot that it would.
When I interviewed Schmidt a few weeks ago and asked about pressure overÂ privacy, China, and lobbying, he said, â€śThis is not the No. 1 crisis at Google.â€ť What is?Â â€śGrowth,â€ť he said, â€śjust growth.â€ť
Scale is Googleâ€™s greatest skill and greatest challenge. It scaled search (vs. quaintÂ Yahoo, which thought it could catalogue this web thing). It scaled advertising (vs.Â the media companies that today donâ€™t know how to grow, only shrink). It is scalingÂ mobile (by giving away Android). It has tried to scale innovation (with its 20 percentÂ rule)â€”but thatâ€™s the toughest.
How does Google stay ahead of Facebook strategically? The war between the twoÂ of them isnâ€™t over social. The next, great scalable opportunity and challenge isÂ mobile, which in the end will translate into local advertising revenue. Mobile willÂ give Google (or Facebook or Groupon or Twitter or Foursquare â€¦ we shall see)Â the signals needed to target content, services, search, and advertising with greaterÂ relevance, efficiency, and value than ever. As Schmidt told broadcasters in Berlin lastÂ year: â€śWe know where you are. We know what you like.â€ť Local is a huge, unclaimedÂ prize. The question is how to scale sales.
I have no special insight into the Googleplex. But I have to imagine that when theÂ companyâ€™s three musketeers sat down and asked themselves what impedimentsÂ could restrain their innovation and growth, they were smart enough and honestÂ enough to finally answer, â€śus.â€ť
As well as their holy trinity worked setting strategy and reaching consensusâ€”theÂ one thing I did hear from inside Google was that nothing happened if they did notÂ agreeâ€”it has become apparent that Google became less nimble and more clumsilyÂ uncoordinated.
Google is working on two conflicting and competing operating system strategies,Â Android and Chrome. It bungled the launches of Buzz and Wave, not to mention Google TV. It is losing talentÂ to Facebook. It needs clearer vision and strategy and more decisive communicationÂ and execution of it.
If itâ€™s obvious to us it had to be obvious to them that that couldnâ€™t come from Largey-plus-Eric. Google, like its founders, is growing up. It needs singular management. SoÂ letâ€™s hope that Schmidt did his most important job wellâ€”not managing but teaching.
Now we will watch to see who Larry Page really is and where his own vision willÂ take Google. Will he give the company innovative leadership and can Sergey BrinÂ give it leadership in innovation?
I imagine we will see a new support structure for Page built from below now ratherÂ than from the side. Iâ€™m most eager to see how he will cope with speaking publiclyÂ for the company. Schmidtâ€™s geeky sense of humor was not grokked by media. (WhenÂ he set off a tempest in the news teapot saying we should all be able to change ourÂ names at age 21 and start over with youthful indiscretions left behind us, he wasÂ 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,Â 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