Google’s Downfall And What We Can Learn From It

be radical Briefing | March 7th, 2023


Dear Friend,

Last week I had the enormous pleasure of delivering the opening keynote at the 79th annual assembly of Caintra in Monterrey, Mexico. Speaking in front of 2,000 guests, days after Tesla announced their next mega-factory would be located in Monterrey, I was reminded of the the complexities of the “implications of the implication”: The excitement about the announcement and the many jobs the factory will create (both directly and indirectly) was mixed with questions about the impact on the quality of life inside of the city (anything from further increased traffic to the cost of living, water shortages, and pollution). A good reminder to always consider the full picture when thinking about – and acting on – the future.

Read on for a perspective on Google’s challenges and what we all can learn from them (and do better).

Decode. Disrupt. Transform.

Praveen Seshadri, former founder and CEO of no-code company AppSheet, which was acquired by Google in 2020, recently left Google – on the day his 3-year mandatory retention period ended.

On his way out he wrote a scathing summary of all the problems he encountered at the Google mothership. His Medium post “The maze is in the mouse” is well worth the read — as it points to a series of common challenges not only at Google but organizations everywhere.

I worked at Google in 2013, seven years before Seshadri sold his startup to the company, and left 90 days after joining – primarily for pretty much the exact reasons outlined in Seshadri’s article: (1) No mission, (2) No urgency, (3) Delusions of exceptionalism, and (4) Mismanagement.

The plight of Google comes down, in my eyes, to the classic Innovator’s Dilemma (Clayton Christensen) – a company making too much money doing the thing it has always done (in Google’s case: Search), lack of competition in the marketplace (leading to a lack of urgency), combined with not-so-great management. Add to this a crusty layer of management processes gained over the many years of operating in a stable market, plus an inbred hesitancy of taking risks (and the active discouragement of doing so), and you find yourself in a situation, which to be quite frank, many companies find themselves in.

I have come to believe (and it has become a focus area for our ongoing research here at be radical) that the only way out of this situation is a combination of unrelenting, visionary leadership and organizational structure. When it comes to the former, I am reminded of Ron Shaich, the founder and former CEO of Panera Bread, saying, “our approach has always been to discover today what will matter tomorrow and then to transform our company into a future that is unfolding before us.” Our friend Kevin Starr, executive director of the Mulago Foundation, crystalizes this in his verb/target/outcome structure of the eight-word mission statement.

We will dig (much) deeper into this topic over the course of the following months. For now – start with your mission. Can you clearly and concisely formulate your mission? Do your people agree? If not – what can you do to turn your mission statement into the bright, shining North Star it ought to be? (via Pascal)

What We Are Reading

🌈 The Future Will be Shaped by Optimists Watch the incredible Kevin Kelly in this brief TED talk from 2021 as a poignant reminder that no matter how tough things get, we need to be optimistic to build a better future. JaneRead

🥶 All the Ways a Cold Plunge Affects the Body Have you tried a cold plunge yet? Constant cold exposure reaps many benefits, including increased metabolism, aid in muscle recovery, and natural shots of dopamine. MafeRead

🫰 Why Companies Are Pushing Premium Products With Higher Prices The current corporate vogue for premiumization in the consumer economy might bring a set of far-reaching implications and unintended consequences. JeffreyRead

📉 Even Busts Can Be Good for Tech As history has shown, market resets can be an important mechanism to lay the groundwork for something new. What new standards for tech might come out of a reset away from easy money? JulianRead

🚘 Throughout the rich world, the young are falling out of love with cars The younger generations are showing a decreased interest in owning cars compared to the past. In recent decades, the global trend has seen a consistent decline in the number of issued driving licenses, except for The United States. PedroRead

💆 Research: The Transformative Power of Sabbaticals We know that creating unstructured space for your creativity and processing is important – not just in short bursts but also long ones. PascalRead

The Thin Wisps of Tomorrow

🧑‍⚖️ On AI-Generated Works, Artists, and Intellectual Property.

🏎️ The big boys start to invest: Ford creates a 550-people autonomous driving team.

✈️ Future of warfare: Simulations and hypersonic planes.

🧒 Scanners are complicated (at least for Gen Z).

🧢 Hide from surveillance cameras using this DIY hoodie.

Internet Finds

Every US president as a Pixar character. 🤭

In Other Parts of the Radical Universe

🏴‍☠️ The Heretic: The Deeper You Get 🎧 Listen to the audio version

🧨 Disrupt Disruption - The Podcast: We dig deep into the learnings from thousands of startups, explore how corporates can better partner and work with entrepreneurs and their companies, and discuss common pitfalls to avoid with the amazing Mary Grove, Managing Partner at Bread and Butter in our latest episode of the podcast. Listen now.

📕 Disrupt Disruption – The Book: Get your copy of our bestselling book and learn how to decode the future, disrupt your industry, and transform your business here.

🔗 The Thin Wisps of Tomorrow Flipboard: Our continuously updated collection of Thin Wisps of Tomorrow as a Flipboard Magazine.

Radically yours, take good care, friend!

— Pascal, Mafe, Pedro, Vivian, and the three Js (Jane, Jeffrey, and Julian)