Google’s Real Problem – GTD?

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Google has made it a habit of making news for the wrong reasons! Days after it reported a blockbuster quarter, the company’s chief executive made some childish remarks about privacy.

And, in past week or so, the company saw three well-known executives leave the company. First it was Chad Hurley, co-founder of YouTube, who decided it was time to hang up his CEO spurs. (Hurley is staying on as a special adviser.) Then came news that AdMob co-founder Omar Hamoui was leaving. Then, over the weekend, news spread that Lars Rasmussen, who was one of the co-creators of Google Maps and Google Wave, is leaving.

Rasmussen is trading Google for Facebook. He apparently likes the new gig so much he would give up Sydney and move to the San Francisco Bay Area. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Rasmussen said:

It feels to me that Facebook may be a sort of once-in-a-decade type of company. The energy there is just amazing, whereas it can be very challenging to be working in a company the size of Google. (SMH)

According to some estimates, one in five Facebook employees have ties back to Google, including COO Sheryl Sandberg and CTO Bret Taylor. Google has over 23,331 employees according to company’s recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Facebook has about 2,000 employees.

Rasmussen explained in his interview that getting things done (GTD) was a big problem at Google, and shutting down his project, Google Wave, a year after it was made available as a beta is a sign it was becoming difficult to get things done at the search giant.

We were not quite the success that Google was hoping for, and trying to persuade them not to pull the plug and ultimately failing was obviously a little stressful. It takes a while for something new and different to find its footing and I think Google was just not patient. (SMH)

He’s not alone. Many former members of AdMob have privately expressed frustration at their inability to get things done at Google. Others who have quit the search giant have expressed similar sentiments. Sometimes, money and perks aren’t enough to retain talent. If today it’s Facebook, then tomorrow it will be yet another hot startup that will keep fishing in Google’s talent pool and find eager biters.

I don’t think rivals (including upstarts) have the ability to stop Google’s financial steamroller. It will continue to be a dominant force in search and online advertising for years to come. But if it doesn’t reign in its talent problem, the company will have a long-term crisis on its hands. It was exodus of talent and inability to get things done that has brought giants of the past — Yahoo for example — to their knees.

For the longest time, Google has been the beacon for the smartest and most talented people in the world, especially from an engineering perspective. If these super-smart people start getting frustrated by their inability to get anything done, they’re going to follow Rasmussen to somewhere they can find a more receptive and nurturing environment.

In the end, that’s the single biggest problem for Google.

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