Why Google failed

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.


Google Plus was done differently to other innovations in Google. It was set up as an autonomous unit in a separate building with thousands of engineers moved to it. The CEO, Larry Page, moved his office into that new building to signal its importance and to ensure that it could operate without constraint. And that is precisely what it did. It innovated quickly and, in the process, had the rest of the organization perplexed, concerned and wondering what it was all for. That last part is not a bug in the self-disruption process; it is meant to be a feature.

But, it is important to ask, why was the self-disruption button pushed? The reason was Facebook. Facebook looked like it could easily disrupt Google’s business. To be sure, it has entered online advertising as a competitor to Google’s DoubleClick but that is just plain, old entry. Instead, I believe that Google was worried that Facebook would end up doing search better than Google.

…It chose to deal with this using self-disruption. By why? Because it had previously failed to ‘get social’ and thought that the cause was its existing organisation. As it turned out, the cause was that getting social was hard and couldn’t just be created at a whim. It is not at all clear that it could be done under the banner of an existing organisation that wasn’t created social from the beginning. In other words, self-disruption by intent seems like something that was doomed from the start.

Moreover, it was also doomed from the end. Suppose Google Plus had been successful. Then what? In order to deal with the Facebook threat, it would have to effectively take over the rest of the organisation. In that situation, the grumblings that were in place would have morphed into outright conflict. Put simply, if you didn’t think you could do this within the organisation in the first place, what makes you think you can, after the fact, take it into the organisation afterwards. If you had to do that, wouldn’t it have been easier to just buy a successful social network, for instance, Twitter, and deal with the integration challenge then and there?

That defines the alternative to self-disruption. Google could have waited to see how social and search played out and then acquired options to get itself there. To be sure, if Facebook had happened upon a magical search-social combination, this might not have worked but then again, it is not like Facebook had what Google had in search capabilities. The point is that Google already had options out there doing the social work and didn’t need to add another.

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