Don't Settle In Your Strength

Jan 27, 2014 1 Min Read
Leveraging Your Strength & Learning From Google

Remember Lycos, Excite, Ask Jeeves and AltaVista? These were just a handful of names that dominated the search engine landscape in the mid-1990s.

But in 1996, the early beginnings of a new search engine called Google dawned in Stanford University. Students Larry Page and Sergey Brin began working on a search engine project with a difference.

On top of the capability to search for websites that corresponded with search terms, Page and Brin inserted a popularity mechanism that assessed the relevance of the pages via links from other websites, and ranked the results accordingly. This change meant highly relevant search results for users.

Google registered its domain name on Sept 15, 1997. A year later, it was operating out of a garage in Menlo Park and hired its first employee. In Dec 1998, just a few months later, PC Magazine recognised Google as the top search engine of choice.

Today the organisation hires over 40,000 employees throughout the world, under the mission “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.

But what has it taken to sustain Google’s success as a business and how does it plan to do so going forward? The challenge with being on top is staying on top.

Though revenue for the company continues to grow, the growth rate of Google’s core business (advertising) has slowed, from 35% in 2011, down to less than 20% in the previous four quarters according to BGC technology analyst Colin Gillis.

Advertising is the bread and butter of the business, and mobile advertising, which is increasingly the method of choice for advertisers, commands lower ad rates.

Gillis, quoted in a Time article from Oct 2013 says, “We see the slowing core business as a one reason why Google is investing so heavily in new ventures as new products are needed to reignite revenue growth,” says Gillis.

At the end of the day, it’s all our long-term journeys that will be assessed. In spite of the raging success Google has had so far, in the long-term, where will it head to?

Here are three simple thoughts to ponder from Google’s 15½-year journey so far, with questions to ask yourself about your personal growth journey and that of your organisation.

In reflecting on these, summon your self-awareness.

1. What do you do well?

Search is Google’s strength, and as of August 2013, it held 66.9% of the Internet search advertising market.

This remains the core of its business, and will continue to be, even with declining ad rates. “It’s best to do one thing really, really well,” writes Google’s 10-point philosophy.

“Our hope is to bring the power of search to previously unexplored areas, and to help people access and use even more of the ever-expanding information in their lives,” the company writes.

What is your core strength and that of your organisation? This provides the bulk of the momentum for growth.

2. Do you need to think bigger?

While search will remain the driving force of Google, the company has also been actively looking beyond to other possibilities.

While at times causing worry for investors as they could distract from the company’s core business, other commentators like Gillis say Google is building new revenue streams.

Google seems to be finding new ways to become a big part of people’s daily lives, whether it be in building driverless cars, launching balloons into the stratosphere to provide Internet access to rural and remote areas (Project Loon), or its recent acquisition of Nest for US$3.2bil, opening doors for Google to enter into home automation.

“It isn’t difficult to understand Google’s motive for purchasing Nest,” writes Drew Hendricks in a Forbes article earlier this week.

“Consider a world in which one consumer has a home full of devices powered by an operating system, combined with a smartphone and car with the same O/S. Each of those devices could speak to each other, seamlessly learning a user’s preferences.

“A person’s home thermostat could begin warming the house up an hour before he gets up, with the coffee pot chiming in an hour later. Fifteen minutes before he ordinarily leaves for work, his car could fire up, ensuring the interior is comfortable and the windows clear for his drive in.

“There’s tremendous potential for technology more generally to improve people’s lives,” says Larry Page in a Google+ post announcing Google’s establishment of Calico, a biotechnology company focused on health and well-being.

“So don’t be surprised if we invest in projects that seem strange or speculative compared with our existing Internet businesses.”

“And please remember that new investments like this are very small by comparison to our core business,” Page adds, surely to assure the nerves of investors.

Only time will tell the success of these projects, but if they go as hoped, Google could cement itself as a key entity in both our digital world and physical world, going far, far beyond the possibilities of just a search engine company.

Here’s the question for us. Are we dreaming too small? The danger of winning is that we focus too much on the strength that brought about that victory.

Looking forward, what are the future challenges? Bear in mind what won the battle last year may not win it this year.

3. Do you make time to dream and build dreams?

Google’s “20% time,” where employees get to spend one day per week on a side project, has birthed products like Gmail and AdSense.

Some controversy was sparked last year, with former employees telling Quartz that the “20% time” at Google was now dead, pummelled by bureaucracy and the need to keep up with productivity. But other Google engineers have stepped forward to label the claims as untrue.

Whatever the current reality with “20% time”, Google X is definitely a permanent fixture of Google operations today. The secretive hub is where new ideas like Google Glass are built, under the keen eyes of Sergey Brin.

Daily execution can take up all the time we have, but do we build in “dream time” to our schedules to keep our eyes constantly looking forward to other possibilities?

This could be by way of a time slot integrated into the schedules of all employees, or like Google X, be the core function of a team.

Do you make time to think about and work on new possibilities?

Google has had tremendous success as a search engine, but is gearing ahead for a future with many different possibilities.

It naturally requires an appetite for risk, which not all may have. But in order to remain a disruptor and game-changer, this exploration quest seems essential.

The danger, which is to sink into comfort and do what you’ve always been doing, seems a greater risk.

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Lily Cheah is a former head of Enterprise at Leaderonomics. Prior to that role, she was editor of (Ldotcom) and also was part of a special projects team in Leaderonomics. She believes that small details play a big part in huge successes, including always explaining “why”. She is a senior leader in HR today.

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