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The problem with Google

Long article at Gizmodo entitled “The case against Google”.

What Google seems to have forgotten is that we were only willing to give them all that data in the first place because it gave us great products and seemed trustworthy.

Google has forgotten why we loved it. It has degraded its premier product in service of promoting others. It has done devious things to ferret out information from its users that they do not willingly provide. It is too much focused on the future, and conversely too scared of current competition.

If you ask me, the problem with Google is that it has no idea what made it successful in the first place.

I believe Google originated from an inspired insight, coupled with quite a bit of luck and serendipity - and of course tough thinking and hard work. Larry Page came up with something remarkable in PageRank. Truly inspired. A way of making sense of the world wide web that was brilliant and simple and powerful.

But Page and Brin were engineers, they weren’t business people. Didn’t want to be business people. So instead they tried to sell their technology to Yahoo for a mere $1M. But Yahoo thought the search business was dead and portals were where it’s at, so they declined. And thus, Google was born, and with it, over 200 billions of dollars worth of market cap wealth. (Of course, had Yahoo bought them, they probably would’ve completed bungled it.)

What Larry didn’t realize, if you ask me, was that it wasn’t the brain up in his skull that was the source of his genius. That brain is necessary to carry it out, to do all of the complicated calculations and algorithms that it takes to make it all real. But the genius came as much from his heart and intuition as it did from his left brain. He just didn’t realize it. [Neuroscience clearly tells us creativity comes from the integration of all three brains - heart, intestine, and skull, as well as left and right hemispheres of the skull brain.]

And so he kept pushing down the skull brain path, even though it was all due to a misunderstanding of what made him successful. [Perhaps that’s what the whole “adult supervision” thing was all about. The realization that, despite their success, something was missing, and Eric Schmidt was able to provide it in a way that was still palatable to Sergey and Larry.]

So the problem with Google is the exact same problem that Microsoft has: They don’t have a soul. They don’t know who they are. Because the leaders don’t know who they really are. They think they do, but they don’t. It’s a shallow understanding.

They have a huge success on their hands, but it’s slowly slipping through their fingers, like sand, and it scares them shitless. They have no idea what to do about it, because they don’t know how to create. Instead they’re using their skull brains to clone and copy and do whatever they can to increase their metrics.

But that just alienates your customers. When, like GoDaddy, you try to increase your numbers by getting better at upselling and converting and tricking people into clicking on things they don’t actually want or need, you improve your numbers in the short term but you lose the trust and respect of your customers, and they’re now just waiting for someone to show up with a good alternative os they can leave.

It’s like religion. All religion is based on some real and profound spiritual experience. But over time, the original energy dissipates, and what’s left is marble and politics and buildings and structures and words which have now lost their meaning. And it happens fast.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, the web is changing, and Google’s core business is slowly being eroded. Maybe that’s okay. Just like with newspapers, there’s no point in fighting the tide. Roll with it and figure out what the company is really really about, and see how you can contribute from that place.

Is Google really about applying algorithmic genius to solve pressing human problems? To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful? I don’t know. Only Google can answer that question. And they need to answer that question at a deeper level than they ever have done before. It may take a while, but the answer is out there. It may not be expressible in words, it may not be a clear succinct statement. It could just be a feeling. But it does exist. In the words of Steve Jobs: “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

And when they find that out, they need to then figure out what they would create from that place, from that place of knowing who they are and what they’re about. With no concern for how they’re going to make money from it.

Remember, back when Google started, they weren’t thinking about how to make money at all. They just wanted to build the technology and get it out into the world. For two years, they didn’t have a business model. And it didn’t seem to concern them much. In the end, the business model was practically handed to them by goto.com. 

Look at Apple. The iPhone didn’t even exist 5 years ago, and now the iPhone business itself is bigger than both Google and Microsoft. Did Apple look at how much that market was worth? Of course they did. But they went in there, not from a need to protect a business model or a need to make the next billion.

They went in there with the desire to make a radically better product for themselves, their friends, and their family, than anything that existed on the market before. Because everything out there plain sucked. Just like Google did originally!

That was not how Google+ came about. At all. And surprise surprise: Nobody wants it. (Except for Google Hangout, that’s actually pretty cool.)

It’s not how Android came about, either. And despite staggering activation numbers, Android is a pretty crummy business for Google. It loses them money every quarter.

But Gmail and Google Maps. Those were true and much needed innovations. And they’re great products. (Or they were. Gmail has deteriorated quite a bit since Paul Buchheit left.)

What Google needs to do is send Larry and Sergey on a soul searching trip. A search for their own souls as well as the soul of the company they’ve built. Google is such an amazing amazing company, it’s got something really magical. But it doesn’t know who it is or who it wants to be. In the words of Steve Jobs: “Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up.”

And when I say soul-searching, I don’t mean Burning Man. I’ve never been, but it seems to me that Burning Man is more of an escape out of the self, through raves and drugs and stuff, rather than a diving into the self, into the stillness, into the light and darkness and the sometimes frightening depths inside.

But that’s where they need to go, if they want to save the company. Where by saving the company I mean avoiding the fate of someone like Microsoft, who is still banking billions and billions thanks to an innovation and a monopoly put in place decades prior, but who have lost its way and its soul years and years ago.

It’s here they need to go if they want to save their own souls and make another wave of truly meaningful contributions to the world. I know they have it in them. I hope they’re willing to take up the challenge.

Godspeed to you.

//Lars

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Creating products with a spirit of enlightenment

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