Back to course-related musings this morning. We’re currently reading Googled – The End of the World As We Know It by Ken Auletta. As someone who says at least once a week, “I swear, Google is going to take over the world,” the book is, partially, a vindication. Auletta highlights, however, that much of what makes Google successful also puts the company in a sometimes precarious position. More specifically, the very belief in science, data, and facts – and in technological innovation – that has driven Google so quickly to success has the potential to bring Google down just as quickly.
On the positive side, Google has used technology to bring some of the best qualities of new media – transparency and immediacy – to search and advertising. LarryandSergey’s belief that measurability leads to efficiency has resulted in tools incredibly useful to all those involved – Google, advertisers, and users. In combination with a culture of empowering and paying attention to employees and a reliance on the collective intelligence of users (i.e., wisdom of crowds), this has propelled Google to indescribable levels of success.
On the other hand, Auletta suggests that Google’s culture of belief in science, data, and facts – and fundamental disbelief in instinct, perception, or opinion – reflects not only a disdain of public relations (as evidenced by different privacy issues that have come up), but a “whiff of arrogance.” It results, he says, in a failure to see the “right brain side of things”, with the personal/engineering point of view clouding the institutional/political point of view. He also highlights a related problem stemming from this culture – “The genes of technological innovation are frequently in conflict with emotional intelligence. Successful technological innovation is all about disruption. Effective emotional intelligence is all about collaboration, how you get talented people to work together and enjoy it.”
Thus far, it seems Google has managed to function by bringing in – either intentionally or through strokes of pure luck – people like CEO Eric Schmidt and “Coach” Bill Campbell, who can provide the institutional/business and emotional intelligence components needed to channel the technological innovation that drives the company. It will be interesting to see Auletta’s commentary in the latter portion of the book regarding whether or not he thinks this is a sustainable structure.
I suspect that the value Google places on employees and users is a huge plus for them, and one that will keep them at the forefront for a long time to come, although I can see how the blinders they put out in terms of technological innovation and measurability/efficiency could potentially lead them to trouble. Auletta mentions more than once the founders’ (or perhaps the Google culture’s more broadly) disdain for “the way other people think”. In some ways, this seems to be in conflict with the value they place on the way their users think, with user choice an important part of directing search and advertising results. I think it’s almost always useful to listen to and try to understand points of view, perspectives, frames of mind, that are different from one’s own; diversity breeds creativity. So even while I rejoice at the value LarryandSergey (and Google as a whole) place on measurability and efficiency, and the success it has led to, I too wonder (like Auletta) if their blinders will pose problems (or perhaps are preventing them from even more resounding success – which, granted, is very hard to imagine).
One thing is clear, though – Google is furthering the trend towards “organizing without organizations” (i.e., getting rid of the middle men). Their advertising model has completely disrupted the status quo, allowing individuals and groups who could never have afforded it before to advertise. It is also allowing companies to get of the middle men – the advertising agencies (not to mention newspapers and networks that were charging them so much for little in return in terms of measurability of success). I was actually talking to a friend who works at Google last night, who was telling me about reorganization in the office stemming from Google’s decision to forgo working with ad agencies, instead choosing to interact with the end client directly. The ad agencies are incredibly upset (and the traditional media has been upset for a while)…but Google marches steadily onward. Who knows what’s next? Can we organize without Google?