Disrupt! Designing for Emerging Technologies
At the dawn of this new decade, Google sits comfortably atop the computing industry (see Part 1 and Part 2 of this series for my take on how they got there). Dominant in search – still the killer app of the Internet, with all due respect to social networking – Google has a variety of other essential and emerging products that put them at the very pinnacle of software. Still not satisfied, Google has officially moved into the deep end of the pool with their recent consumer hardware products and are clearly positioning themselves for a three team race between themselves, Microsoft, and Apple for leadership in the broader and more emerging category of digital lifestyle experiences.
Where does Google go from here? Unlike Apple and Microsoft, whose apexes are almost certainly in the past, Google’s peak has yet to come. While they may still face as many failures as they do successes – can they truly become the dominant player in mobile computing hardware? Highly unlikely! – they are well-positioned to be the industry’s sacred cow in the decade ahead. This may be traced to a number of reasons that speak to the very heart of why businesses succeed and fail:
As if being the titular head of the Internet were not enough, Google is busily diversifying into myriad industries that are part of or even just adjacent to that industry. Their well-publicized forays into advertising, publishing, remote hosting, network connectivity and more speak to the ambition and creativity of a winner. In fact, as mocked as their ambitions to conduct space exploration might be, it speaks to the verve and panache a company needs to beat an industry as tough and progressive as digital technology. In shooting for the stars they are ensuring they at least reach the moon. The explicit industries that Google infiltrates in the decade ahead may be a guessing game, but the volume and breadth of their ambition is without question. Expect to see more of Google in places you don’t expect them to be, and consider it just the latest signifier of their continued ascendance.
In ways both explicit and implicit, Google creates their physical workspaces to make their employees “captive” and get more and better hours from them. Examples of perks and services to support this strategy run the gamut and touch most of the minutiae that directs people’s non-professional lives: from high-end day care, to free delivered dry cleaning, to free gourmet made-to-order meals, to their most recent plan of trying to build massive housing on their main campus. Some of these ideas succeeded, others failed, still others succeeded but proved to be unsustainable. The point is that Google is trying to create a Utopian vision of how their employees can live, in the process squeezing as much as possible out of them. Whether one sees this as a win-win or dressed-up exploitation depends on your filters, but it certainly contributes to their ability to attract and retain the best and brightest talent, a pre-requisite to staying ahead of the competition.
These are five of the core components that make great companies, and I would give Google a rating somewhere between four and five stars (out of five) in each and every one of them. Combined with their current and recent growth, there is no question Google will continue to grow and diversify and become more important in our everyday lives as well as to the landscape of business. How high they soar, and for how long, has yet to be seen. I will write more on where the next digital superpower may emerge in a subsequent article or series.