Review of What Would Google Do
Copyright 2009, Jim Penny
Word count: 1433
An edited version of this review will appear in Personnel Psychology at some point in the next 12 months.
The object of this review is
Jarvis, J. What Would Google Do? New York, NY: Collins Business, Inc., 2009, 272, $26.99, Hardcover.
OK, so I read a book review in the Washington Post. Jeff Jarvis, had written a book called What Would Google Do? The review was interesting, though I cannot now recall the citation in the Post, much less the reviewer. Or was it the Irish Times? The thing is, I read the Post on my Kindle, the eBook reader from Amazon, and because the review tripped a trigger in my old psychometric brain, I went to the Kindle bookstore, found the book, bought it with my 1-click, and started reading one minute later, my credit card some $14.84 lighter
Perhaps we have here a harbinger of what Jarvis describes in his book.
There is a paper version of the book, and that it exists seems to run counter to the thesis of the book, which we'll get to in a moment. One might wonder why Jarvis didn't just post the book to his blog, and let everyone link to it. I do not know the answer to this question, but I can hypothesize, and my guess is one of exposure. What Jarvis is presenting is ahead of the curve, so to speak. Perhaps in another generation, publication will be as simple as posting a book on a blog, and even though one could easily do that now, I'm not sure the electronic readership would be large enough to have the necessary effect.
I also doubt Google's AdSense would generate sufficient revenue to meet the author's needs, especially when compared to print media. This world just isn't there yet.
Two hours later, I realized I was reading a glimpse of the future.
What we have is a straightforward application of the question, “What would Google do?” applied to the less than straightforward thorn bush that is the corporate boardroom of the 21st century. A very few hours later in a fit of insomnia, I sent email to the CEO of the company that writes my biweekly paycheck that this book is a must-read if he ever wants our little company to step, rather than stumble, into it's future.
Here, a month later, I'm still on the payroll. Go figure. (I can also report that he bought the book directly after reading the email. He bought the paper copy, but he made the purchase online.)
The book opens with a sentence positing that apparently no company, agency, board, or individual knows how to survive and prosper in the Internet age except Google. Well, that's quite the supposition, as I thought myself to be doing quite well. Of course, I'm just me, and not many, if any, give a rat's behind about that. But the sun did rise this morning, as it's done for quite a few years without Google, so what is Jarvis talking about? I put down the Kindle for a glass of Chardonnay. It was a good move.
I also did that with From Good to Great, in which the opening sentence left me breathless. The rest of the book left me disappointed, and I hoped Jarvis wouldn't do that. He didn't.
After a few evenings' reading, I decided that Jarvis, as well as Google, has figured it out. The plan for the future in black and white, if not in black and gray for me, was directly in front of us. How many readers will rise to the occasion and grasp the opportunity before them? A few will, many will not, and an alarming number will do something they think is correct, but they will experience an epic fail, all the while wondering what happened. I suspect it'll require another generation, if not two, to cull the old-school-closed-door-meeting-I've-got-a-secret men from the ranks.
So just what does Jarvis say that Google would do? With some risk of over-simplification on my part, Jarvis says that Google, when presented with a problem simplifies, organizes, and makes it all transparent. Jarvis points out, without saying as much, that Google applies Occam's Razor when solving problems, the most direct evidence of Google's on-going pursuit of simplicity being the Google homepage, which stands as the model for a simultaneously utterly simple and completely appropriate design for the purpose.
From this simple homepage, people find information that Google previously organized and now reorganizes using information derived from search patterns to make the next search more successful. In addition, Google continually searches the Internet for new information. Just moments after I post a new entry on my blog at Blogspot.com, I can go to the Google homepage, search for my name and a keyword from the new post, and the first entry in the search results is usually the new post. We know Google owns Blogspot.com, but it simply astounds me that the post appears in search results within a matter of minutes.
Finally, Google simplifies and organizes with overarching transparency. It is no secret that Google scours the web continually, organizes what it finds, making it available for the next search request, and then reorganizes what it knows using analyses of search requests and any new information it finds. If you've posted something on FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Bebo, or any of the myriad other sites on the web, Google knows about it, has archived the information, and will offer it up to the next person who searches with the necessary keywords. It's likely prudent to perform such searches now and again just to stay abreast of what the rest of the world can learn about you.
The importance of a focus on organization and simplicity have long been self-evident to me and probably most others, though we often talk ourselves into more complicated solutions for the wrong reasons; it is transparency that fascinates me, and yes, I see this one equally important to organization and simplicity. We benefit tremendously from the enforcement of sunshine laws in government, and I have long held that corporate bodies would benefit as well.
Let's take a simplistic example: employee carping over salaries. I've never worked in an organization but what someone at some point would start complaining about money. During lunch a long time back, someone made the simple suggestion that such carping would end post haste if salary information were freely available. The simultaneous inhalations and follow-up gasps nearly destroyed the windows in the room.
However, the moment left me with a crystal-like clarity. With the public disclosure of salary, there would be no doubt regarding the inequities hypothesized to exist, and if the hypothesis were true, management would be motivated to make corrections, likely before the information became public. Similarly, if no inequities were found, the carping could move on to something more productive.
After making his case for what makes Google Google, Jarvis proceeds to consider a Googlier world. His word, not mine. If Google ran a newspaper, how would it work. Yes, Jarvis wrote this well before we started seeing the large newspaper companies in serious financial distress. (I do not know that Amazon with the Kindle will be the salvation of the newspaper industry, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoy getting up and knowing the paper is waiting for me. It's even better knowing that I won't have inky fingers or additional trash, much less that cold walk down the driveway.)
Jarvis continues with the speculation of how Google would manage some twenty enterprises, and although he does become somewhat tedious towards the bottom of the list (perhaps a dozen examples would have served the purpose better), his points are well-taken, and those who seek to lead organizations into a successful future would do well to reflect on the application of Google's model to their enterprises.
Will we see this Googlier world anytime soon? We will, at least in some manner, sooner than later. We already see elements of it before us. Remember, I read the book on a Kindle. Will all companies benefit from becoming Googlier? I think they would, in some manner and in some degree, though I do not believe many companies have the leadership necessary to evolve their Googliness. Taking that step towards simplicity and organization is one thing, but that step toward transparency is gonna be downright scary for a lot of existing management.