It's Lonely At The Top

Google, Monopolies, Competition

We are comparative creatures in a polarized world. Like magnets or batteries, we exist only in relation to. Without positive, there is no negative; without contrasts, there is no current. Our lives play out with this same polarity. We are better or worse than others; we are someone's brother, someone's mother, someone's wife or uncle. We define ourselves by defining something else. Newton's Three Laws of Motion can be summed up by saying that things only move because of other things. So what exactly does all this have to do with Google? It sets the scene for the critical question: how does it change your behavior when you have no one to push you? Yes, Google has to keep an eye on Bing and Yahoo and Facebook and Twitter. But when you've commandeered as much of the market as Google has, your mindset changes. You say things like,

I don't think Bing's arrival has changed what we're doing. We are about search, we're about making things enormously successful, by virtue of innovation.

So, two things. First, even if Bing did mount a credible threat, the CEO of Google is unlikely to admit it. Second, and more importantly, Schmidt is right. Bing is not a credible threat. It shouldn't change what Google does. People tend to assume competition is a bad thing, but in reality competition drives progress. Competition creates the polarized environment for motion. I fully appreciate 20% time and Google Labs and Wave. Google is a committed company, an admirable company, a company that has done and continues to do extraordinary things. What I would like to know is how it affects your mindset when you know that the majority of your audience is effectively addicted to your content through force of habit, that your paying customers are tied to you because you control the eyeballs, and that you are effectively the circulatory system of the online organism. How does it change your operating framework when you appreciate competitors only as a sort of abstract peril, a nebulous irritant that may threaten a fraction of your seemingly infinite cash flow? Micah Henning left a comment on my last column about Built To Last, one of my favorite books. Micah suggests that Google may be one of those visionary companies. It might be true; we'll only know with hindsight. What we do know is that visionary companies all have one thing in common: the ability to reinvent themselves. Back to Micah:

So long as Google continues on the path of innovation, they will survive, just as HP has. HP started making automatic urinal flushers and bowling foul line detectors in the beginning, you know. Because of years of innovation and revolutionary business design, HP has outlasted its founders and continues to be revolutionary and innovative yet today.

Google has search instead of automatic urinal flushers, but they have yet to demonstrate a financially viable bowling foul line detector -- and the lack of polarized pressure diminishes the perceived urgency. I'm looking forward to the next chapter here. I'm eager to see whether Google can effectively stimulate progress and preserve the core. Until then, be sure to give a hug to the next Googler you see. After all, it's lonely at the top.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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