No Rest For The Not-Evil

After ten years of hard work, during which you answer trillions and trillions of queries, in the process creating millions upon millions of happy customers and donating millions upon millions to worthy causes, ultimately generating well over $100 billion in market capitalization (even at today's deflated stock price), one would think that you'd earned a bit of a rest.

Not so.

In the foreword to Geoffrey Moore's "Crossing the Chasm," Regis McKenna says, "Our emerging and evolving markets are demanding continual adaptation and renewal, not only in times of difficulty but on the heels of our greatest successes as well. Which of us would not prefer a little more time to savor that success, to reap a little longer what we cannot help but feel are our just rewards? It is only natural to cling to the past when the past represents so much of what we have strived to achieve."

Two weeks ago, I suggested that the very nature of Twitter as a below-the-radar, disruptive model gave it the potential to unseat Google in search. Now Silicon Alley Insider's John Borthwick is drawing parallels between AOL's sense of dominance ten years ago and Google's sense of dominance today (yes, he's got a financial stake in Twitter, but that doesn't stop him from making clever observations).



Borthwick had the fortune or misfortune, depending on your worldview (I prefer "fortune"), to be there when Clay Christensen, author of "The Innovator's Dilemma," told a group of execs at AOL that they weren't nearly as invulnerable as they thought they were:

[Christensen] said time and time again disruptive business confuse adjacent innovation for disruptive innovation. They think they are still disrupting when they are just innovating on the same theme that they began with. As a consequence they miss the grass roots challenger - the real disruptor to their business. The company who is disrupting their business doesn't look relevant to the billion dollar franchise, its often scrappy and unpolished, it looks like a sideline business, and often its business model is TBD. With the AOL story now unraveled - I now see search as fragmenting and Twitter search doing to Google what broadband did to AOL.

Christensen is right, as is McKenna. In this world we only ever have two choices: renewal or death. Just because you've watered your plants for ten years doesn't mean they won't die if you stop.

You may think my metaphor is stupid, but we behave this way all the time. How often do you take the time to tell your loved ones how important they are to you? Appreciation is to relationships as water is to plants as reinvention and renewal are to business.

I believe Google is continually looking to reinvent itself -- hence its purchase of any startup with a pulse. But there's a reason these scrappy and unpolished disruptors inevitably come from the outside. It's because, if they were internal, they would never be able to break free from the shadow of their 800-pound older sibling.

If you are in business and you are at all worried about your future, listen to Christensen. Listen to Moore. Listen to your customers and to those people you wish were your customers. Realize that you have to prove yourself anew every single day. Water the plants.

But never, ever, listen to your own hype. It will distract you, and then it will blind you, and ultimately it will kill you.

6 comments about "No Rest For The Not-Evil".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Marc Engelsman from Digital Brand Expressions, February 16, 2009 at 10:13 a.m.

    Couldn't agree more about the concept of constant reappraisal and renewal.

    Regarding Google, it may not be Twitter that unseats it but rather an aggregate of Twitter-like digital outposts that each nibble away at its share over time.

  2. Uriah Av-Ron from Oasis Public Relations, February 16, 2009 at 10:58 a.m.

    Hi Kaila,

    Great post. And as a publicist, I can say that you'd be shocked by the frequency with which clients sometimes drink their own Kool-Aid.

  3. Tr Dubya from TTS, February 16, 2009 at 12:07 p.m.

    No rest for those who don't take it.

  4. Stephen Brown from Internet Marketing Consultant, February 16, 2009 at 1:07 p.m.

    There is always danger of industry-leading companies becoming complacent. This is true of traditional companies, GM, Bethlehem Steel, Pan Am, etc., as much as modern, internet-based companies. And, it may be true of Google as well. Jim Collins explores these types of companies in Built to Last and Good to Great.

    But there are huge differences between AOL and Google. AOL was extremely arrogant and borderline criminal in the demands it placed on companies trying it was doing business with - read Fools Rush In. Plus, their model was closed and relied totally on dial up technology. It wasn't Google, Yahoo, Netscape or some 21st-century, high-tech start up that doomed AOL so much as the proliferation of broadband.

    Additionally, as you mention, Google is constantly looking for new opportunities and hardly seems complacent. AOL, on the other hand, stuck to their dial up business model at all costs even after broadband became a reality for much of the nation. Why they never started their own Search Engine and relied solely on Google is probably beyond the understanding of most people in this industry.

    Maybe I'm stuck in the past, but I don't believe that Twitter will become today's Google any time soon or ever even but I wish them well. There's a huge difference between searching for information and keeping tabs on what other people are doing 24/7.

  5. James Gunaca, February 16, 2009 at 1:56 p.m.

    A new web service or extraordinary enhancement to the internet will come along and unseat Google.

    I think Christensen makes a great point about the unseating of AOL towards the end of the 90's, early 00's. Was it broadband? Or was it that AOL kept all of their users within a closed-network environment (aka, your entire internet experience is within AOL's walls) where, eventually, they realized the web existed outside of AOL's walls and had evolved much, much more? No longer did you need to be bound by the dial-up modem and the infamous "You've Got Mail!"

    Unfortunately, I find myself being within a "Google wall" for the majority of my time on the web now. When on my work PC, I'm locked in Google Chrome almost all day (with the exception of a few web based services only supported in IE or FF), use Google services both Apps and personal editions (Gmail, Docs, Calendar, iGoogle, News, Maps, Search the list goes on). I'd be working in Google Chrome on my Mac at home as well if it were out but am still locked in their services all the time. Point is, I'm completely immersed in Google's services, drinking the kool-aid and loving it. And, unlike AOL, it's not just my internet experience with which they are integrated into. There is also presence within my mobile device (calendar sync, e-mail, contacts) so they have reached out further than AOL did into their user's lives becoming more ever-present, not just when you dial-up.

    Web services such as Twitter and Facebook do have the potential to cause some stirring in the shadow of the 800 lb. gorilla but I think it will be the collective of new web services (and faster speeds, I expect) that enhance on what Google has done right and users will begin to migrate to those services. The mass adoption of Facebook and Twitter have just opened our eyes to what is to come before the next generation of the web; 3.0

  6. Susannah Richardson from Wordstream, February 26, 2009 at 2:34 p.m.

    Great post and feedback!

Next story loading loading..