Saturday, February 23, 2008

Google's Lurking Problem....

Yes, even Google has problems. Some are well discussed - like its difficulties in trying to break into the hand held market - and some are not. All great companies follow an arc of some sort. They rise to prominence. They become the status quo. Eventually, they fade as someone else invents a better approach to solving the same problem.

Generally, it is only in hindsight that you can see where the troubles began for a business. Generally, but not always. Occassionally, a serious problem is hiding in plain sight. What problem am I referring to with respect to Google? Project managment. Specifically, the thousands of projects being undertaken by Google employees without proper corporate oversight of which ones makes sense and which ones don't.

Google has proven itself competent at monetizing search results. Nothing more. Even the idea of exactly how to do that, of course, didn't orginate with Google. That idea came from Bill Gross, who started (later renamed Overture and acquired by Yahoo). That is it. Google has a great pay per click business but no where has it shown itself exceedingly capable at inventing other billion dollar ideas. Which isn't to say it isn't trying. It is just going about it all wrong.

Google prides itself on its management edict that 20% of an employee's time is his (or hers) to do with as desired. The hope is that these bright and motivated workers will come upon a big new idea for Google to exploit. Fine in principal but not in practice. Consider that for all of Google's impressive revenue growth quarter over quarter, over 95% of its revenues still come from one source: Adsense. Yet, massive investment in money and time is being spent on thousands of other initiatives. What happens when its base business slows? My prediction? A radical wake up call to all of the employees who today consider it their right to explore projects willy nilly without regard to their realistic revenue potential. When that day comes, the culture of Google will have to change. Business discipline and accountiblity will become the new watch words. The strain this will put on the organization will be immense. Reeling in a loose culture and creating a layer of cold analysis is never welcome by line workers. At Google, it will be down right despised.

Now, aside from increased management oversight (which will come from where in a company that has never had any?), what do you think the impact will be when subsidized cafeteria, dry cleaning and car washes get eliminated.

Were I on the Google board, working on establishing a durable culture would be my top priority.....

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