Should Google Focus? Really?Posted: November 20, 2011
I’m about finished with the Steve Jobs (Isaacson) biography. Fascinating (even though many are complaining about mistakes, here’s Gladwell).
As Steve Jobs’s death became imminent, various tech luminaries went to visit him. One of them was Google’s Larry Page. Here’s the advice Steve Jobs gave to Google and Page:
The main thing I stressed was focus. Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up. It’s now all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down. They’re turning you into Microsoft. They’re causing you to turn out products that are adequate but not great.
So, is Jobs right? Should Google focus?
I must say, I use a lot of google products, even the “adequate but not great” ones: Google Sites, Gmail, Google Voice, Google+, Google Scholar Citations (a new service), Google Books, Google Documents, Google Reader, YouTube etc, etc. Are there other options for google products – sure (StrategyProfs for example uses WordPress rather than Google’s Blogspot, I use iOS rather than Android). But for many of these services I have settled with a Google product. Perhaps I secretly like the fact that many of these products are still in beta. (You know, the “beta” sorta makes you feel like you are somehow participating in the forefront of the technology or hacker culture – ok, or something like that.) Well, and I like the fact that most of the google products are free.
But, there is a bigger, strategic question about the coherence of it all. What is Google all about? What is it really good at? I suppose much of their expertise is in cloud-based services. But that covers just about everything these days. Maybe they are simply good at hiring sharp people to develop a range of software and then just seeing what works and sticks. Perhaps they’ve found the holy grail of innovation – you know, that meta-capability that helps them generate new products in any software-related area. Perhaps they are just good at trial-and-error and launching their betas quickly. Or, maybe their search capability simply subsidizes their whims in other areas. Google has of course launched many products that subsequently have fizzled. But Google continues to encourage this type of tinkering, along with buying up novel technologies.
Maybe Google is that one exception to ‘everything’ in strategy (like GE) that we highlight in class.