Another letter from the DOC – September 2008
What must be one of the world’s most exciting companies turned 10 years old in the beginning of September. Google, as so many other success stories, was started by two students at a university. This time it was Stanford University where Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed some new ideas on how to rank pages on the internet based on their popularity in terms of number of visitors. I am sure they had some sort of thoughts about the potential in this but I wouldn’t think that they could predict that their company would go from 2 to close to 20,000 employees and some ten years down the road be worth somewhere in the neighbourhood of 150 billion USD. I think it is fair to say that the first 10 years have been pretty successful.
So what makes Google special? You could argue that it is nothing. Like any other company they have to make ends meet, debit and credit should add up and hopefully in the end they can make a profit. One interesting thing though is that for most of us, their product is free. Many of us use Google and many of their different applications on a daily basis and we are paying – nothing. Money into the company is all covered, thanks to Google’s technology, by the companies whose adverts will show up on exactly the right computer screens. Google know very well what we are interested in; we kind of told them that the last time we used Google’s products.
In a world where most of the computer industry over the last 20 years has been circulating around a certain Bill Gates and his Microsoft, it is interesting to see how Google now is completely changing the goal posts. Gates and Microsoft built their fortunes on what we have in our computers. Google could not care less as their products can be used without having anything on your computer, besides an internet browser. And can you believe it – the new browser, Google Chrome, just came out about 10 days ago! Very soon we can stop having things on our hard drives; with Google’s products they are there online – all the time and from any computer. Documents, spread sheets, presentations, calendar, email, maps, pictures and rest assured that the list will go on and on. Thirteen years ago Bill Gates saw this coming and wrote an internal memo in which he assigned the “highest level of importance” to the internet and warned his colleagues that it was a potential “tidal wave” that could fundamentally alter the rules. At that time the company threatening Microsoft was not Google but the web browser Netscape. Will Microsoft be able to do anything to meet this in 2008? Who knows? What I think though is that this is another example of a paradigm shift. And when a paradigm shifts there is no turning back. There is simply no future for those who like things the way they were and try to compete in the new paradigm with the tools of the old. The Fosbury flop changed the high jump forever and Bjorn Borg never stood a chance with his old wooden racquets when he tried to come back.
Paradigms do not change by traditional thinking; nor by gradual improvements and building on what has been. Paradigms are shifted by people who think differently – outside the box. One of my favourite authors when it comes to outside the box or as he would call it ‘lateral thinking’, is a man named Edward de Bono. His books are hard work to read and they sure give me a head ache but boy, they are useful. I wonder what kind of paradigms we are stuck in that could do with a little bit of thinking outside the box?
When at the Home Internationals at Muirfield the other week I had a fascinating conversation with a man whose level of thinking I admire very much. He has been around in golf for a long time, devoting a big portion of his life to the game and the development of its players. We talked about the future of the game and how difficult it is for youngsters today to play amateur golf at the highest level, which is a full time job, and yet not be able to make a living from it, which would be against the amateur status rules. The simple reality is that once mom and dad can’t pay for you any longer you either get a job and more or less drop out of golf, at least at this level, or you move into the professional game. The big problem is that this move is not based on whether players are ready for the professional game or not but that most of them simply can’t afford to stay amateur. This very wise man said to me that ‘if we had the chance to do it again we certainly wouldn’t do it the way we have in this country for the last 100 years’. To me, that is a good start in the process of thinking outside the box.. The question is who will be the Google of golf…
Did you know that all employees at Google have 20% of their work time to spend on whatever they fancy doing? From those 20% products like Gmail and Google News were created. And isn’t it quite interesting that Fortune Magazine placed Google at the top of its list of the hundred best places to work in both 2007 and 2008? If you were to let 20% of your time loose – how would or could you use it?
“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”