Google’s 20% Time. Rejection and Defection.

Mr. Cringley’s opinion piece on Google’s demise from within strikes me as right and wrong all at the same time. It’s thoughtfully written and mostly insightful. Think Sweet and Sour (shouldn’t work but does) or Root Beer and Ice Cream.

I’ve been in the Googler’s shoes… at a little startup called Digital Frontiers here in Tulsa, which the founders sold to Williams Communication Group (WCG). We were creating web 1.0, first gen sites for the likes of Thrifty Car Rental, Williams Companies, Lucent, Arrow Trucking, Parker Drilling, PennWell, Purolator, United Way of America (the mother ship, not the local affiliates). We were being invited to pitch accounts like Four Seasons Hotels and SBC. The team was small. When I joined right after the sale there were five of us. Near the end there were over 40. We were big enough and had enough capital backing to make serious due diligence runs at infrastructure companies like BBN Planet.

We were working our asses off (and loving it!). One of the original partners, David Cordeiro, asked two of us to come up with “Just Spin It Fridays”. It was meant to give us stuctured time to reinvest in our own training or work on evaluate emerging things like Perl or Python or GIF89a or Flash… It was seed corn. LOTS of good came of that “free” time. Truth be told it turned out to be a retention program more than anything else: Our leadership trusted us to do the right thing and to be responsible with our time.

Still, as Cringley posits (but not for the stated reasons) we slowly imploded. A star going supernova. I was gone by then but the unravelling had commenced before my departure. Our client’s were leaving. Other, more mature solutions providers had arrived and WE DIDN’T KEEP PACE! We had the talent, our skills were sharp as any around. We simply lost focus having become part of a bigger company through acquisition. That is why I’m so harsh on Avenue A | Razorfish getting gulped into Microsoft. Unless they get out of Dodge… they’re doomed. Round Peg, Square Hole. I digress…
Google may have it’s share of FYIFV (read the Cringley article). I doubt it’s what will unravel Google. While I don’t presume to know any more than the next schmoe… What I think will unravel Google is a loss of focus on their core competencies:

Talented people! First, foremost!;
Mr. Scoble says  infrastructure is one & I’ll agree;
Search is obvious;
Relevant results too;
Social responsibility (think Yahoo! and China);
User control over profile;
Advertising;
The next big thing!

The last one (and there are many more… I’m not THAT smart) is what Googlers are beating on. So what if Cringley’s numbers are right and 360 pretty good ideas fail and 40 thrive. I’ll bring China back into the discussion. They can throw IMMENSE numbers of  really smart people at problems (as can India). Why are they rising to the superpower echelons?  It comes down to the numbers. Sure, some will defect and go somewhere else. That’s life. Google’s no different. It has it’s own culture and it’s own economy for crying out loud. As does Microsoft. It’s how business is done. Makes me wonder if Cringley lives in some kind of academic bubble over at PBS.

“20% time” is probably a great way to take some pressure off your people, let them develop some skills and plow that back into your product lines

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Explore posts in the same categories: Cringley, Google, Robert Scoble, WCG

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