Is your Organization also going through a Mid-life crisis ?

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This article is based on The Economist’s recent cover story: How Google has outgrown its corporate culture

“Vision” vs Reality

“We are not a conventional company and we do not intend to become one”- Official communication from Google before going public in 2004

Organizations are driven by culture- but in my opinion, the challenge is that organizations do not understand that culture of successful companies is aligned with the culture requirements that are needed to be successful in that era. And hence….culture needs to change/evolve- and that too, in a very fluid way, in today’s context.

A redefined, always fluid culture, means that your talent has the mindset to consistently float new solutions, products and offerings that are relevant to the current scenarios. I almost always stay away from looking for career opportunities in companies that state on their website -“the most important thing that we look for is fit”. That means they need people who are exactly like hundreds of other in the organization. This leads to another type of herd immunity- a herd that becomes immune to all things that need to change around them.

Google’s lack of next superstar is driven by its culture crisis

Reproducing Google’s vision, mission or purpose (whatever you want to call it) again:

“We are not a conventional company and we do not intend to become one”- Official communication from Google before going public in 2004

And yet, fast forward sixteen years and Google does seem like a conventional company. I believe The Economist nails the three factors that not only makes it like any other company now, but also makes it long term outlook challenging. Google needs to find its mojo.

What are Google’s challenges ?

The two pronged challenge

I. Business saturation : This is becoming critical in my opinion. The search and online advertising space have been Google’s forte for decades now. And it has been dabbling in many other projects. But in my opinion, Google is doing it in a very unstructured way. It is trying to dabble in all those areas like a startup, which it ceased to be decades ago. In that process, it is not leveraging some fundamental advantages it has due to being a mature, cash rich company with talented engineers, managers and strategists.

I will discuss this a little bit more in the subsequent section (“What needs to change”)

II. Cultural Challenge: And a 10/10 to The Economist for nailing this challenge in one sentence- a sentence that should be printed as posters and put on walls of companies who want to achieve the rare feat of balancing maturity with innovation:

“The freewheeling ethos that was so successful in Google’s early days has become a liability”.

And I always struggle to understand why is it so hard for companies to quickly nail the fact that the culture that made you successful in one certain era, with a certain business ecosystem will not always successfully work today. Forget about today (by today- I mean the Digital age in which the business landscape will vastly change from one decade to another), companies like Apple and Microsoft experienced it years ago that what once worked for them, no longer works effectively. And culture, among other things, need to change, to be successful.

However, Google’s problem is much bigger than what Apple or MS once faced. These organizations, once they started growing, realized their growth and shed their start-up mindset. They developed command and control, organizational structure and other aspects that mature growing organizations develop. Google did not ! And the primary reason behind that was the mindset that if they change anything, they will lose their mojo ! They did seem to be losing in the tech battele- but the primary driver is exactly the opposite.

What needs to change ? Is Cultural challenge driving business saturation ?

It is always Day 1 at Amazon but in a new environment

I have heard this from many folks that it is always day one at Amazon. So if Amazon did not change their culture from their “Actual” day one, why wouldn’t it not work for other companies like Google ? And that is where I say that they did not fully understand the Day one ethos of Amazon.

Day One at Amazon is starting with the same hunger, passion, curiosity, and other aspects, that Bezos started with decades ago, but in a new context, on a new business, with a new strategy, every year.

It does not mean that your org structure, ways of working, business divisions are allowed to grow as ad-hoc as they were when you were a start-up.

Firing the innovation engine

So obviously Google needs to reimagine its organization strategy (I will not elaborate too much on it since I am not very familiar with how they are structured) But assume that it is able to put one in place and execute it- then what ? What product can they envision that has the same flavor as “The Search Engine” ? They have been dabbling in many things, and are competiting with Azure and AWS in cloud business as well but have not been able to extablish a very strong foothold there as well. What should be the strategy ?

The world demands solutions- technologies are enablers

And Google should not be a stranger to it. The online advertising behemoth that it is currently was built on the foundation of identifying a customer challenge/problem and building a solution around it- how do you find the information you need in the ever expanding world wide web ?

Yes, the primary aspect of finding opportunity should be building solutions. But then, these solutions also need to be built leveraging technologies that are erasing the boundaries. Is AWS so widely used because it is cloud technology ? Nope ! It is a cloud solution. They consistently have launched products, thereby building a cloud product portfolio, that allows you to develop a solution around your unique requirements.

It can try to find its own unique offering space in “hot” tech areas like cloud or develop a unique tech solution, like it did earlier. There are a couple of “emerging areas” that Google can explore, in the Industry 4.0 arena , where it can leverage its cloud platform as well but I am not going to detail them here 🙂Folks at Google are much smarter than me so they probably have already identified many such opportunities. I hope they reorient their organization and ignite their innovation spree again.


Views expressed are strictly my own.

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