This week, Larry Page took back the reins of Google, the company he co-founded with Sergey Brin a lifetime ago, replacing longtime chief executive Eric Schmidt, now chairman of Google. In his first task as CEO, Page has shaken up the executive ranks in a reorg that’s about addressing two of Google’s big challenges: its overcomplicated bureaucratic structure and Facebook.
Since my colleague Mathew Ingram has written about why Page can’t bully his company into being social, I’m going to stay away from that topic, mostly because I agree with him. Instead, let’s look at the re-org. As part of this executive revamp, Larry did the following:
- Got rid of a product czar, aka Jonathan Rosenberg.
- Distributed the power and accountability to seven executives, who are responsible for certain domains.
Here’s the breakdown of who’s doing what at Google, according to Jessica Guynn at the Los Angeles Times, who first reported the story:
- Andy Rubin, SVP of mobile
- Vic Gundotra, SVP of social
- Sundar Pichai, SVP of Chrome
- Salar Kamangar, SVP of YouTube and video
- Alan Eustace, SVP of search
- Susan Wojcicki, SVP of ads
- Jeff Huber, SVP of local & commerce
Page’s first attempt at turning the company around makes perfect sense to me. Today’s Google is like a leaky, aging supertanker that’s being rocked by rough seas (Apple) and being ripped apart by raging winds (Facebook). Google has the same problem most established and near-monopolies have: It’s looking inward and is too married to its business models. As a result, it tend to miss the big picture.
Just as media companies often miss opportunities because they can’t understand they’re in the information business, or educational institutions that can’t learn the basic reality that they’re in the “learning” business, Google has missed the big picture.
The Big Picture
The biggest problem facing Google is that it can’t think beyond PageRank. Why should it? It’s what Brin and Page built, and it turned Google into a gusher of money. It has become a part of the company’s DNA, and changing that is pretty tough.
Google’s stated mission “is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Unfortunately, the company has gotten stuck on that vision from the perspective of “search” to such an extent that it can’t see beyond its own definition of search. Here’s what I think the company needs to do:
- Remember the company is “organizing” the world’s information, and not a search box.
- Realize that “search” was essentially developed for a digital world that was organized in files and folders, a methodology that doesn’t quite work in the fast growing, always-expanding Internet.
- Re-focus on what made Google delightful in the past: finding us things we needed on the web, without much disruption. If that means looking beyond the search box, it should do that.
That means the company has one product whose core mission is to help find what we’re looking for. Whether that means Google has to use its algorithm, Twitter’s social signals, its own social-validation tools (YouTube etc.), mobile location data or all of them together, it doesn’t really matter. But it needs to stop thinking about things in just the context of search and start thinking about how it can help us find the “information” we need.
The New Team
If you look at the recently promoted team, you can see they are heading up product groups which, in theory, should be building towards a unified product called Google, whose core value proposition should be helping us find information, with or without the search box.
They are all engineers and most (if not all) of them have a proven track record as product people. If you read this Fast Company story, it’s pretty clear that most of these folks owe their allegiance to Page and are his go-to-people for him to get things done. I think that’s crucial for the company as it starts to become more streamlined and starts to engage in hand-to-hand combat with younger (Facebook) and nimbler (Apple) competitors.
However, for Page, this should be just the start. He needs to hire people who challenge Google’s conventional, metrics-driven approach to the world. In other words, Page needs a senior vice president of happiness. Now this SVP is not a real person, because what I’m arguing for is an ideology and an approach to building the next generation of Google products that focus on “finding” us stuff we want. As I wrote earlier, “they need to think so differently that they need to hire people who are very unlike them,” and what they need are “creatives — the ones who don’t necessarily have computer science degrees.”