Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Total world domination ... or not!

So far I’ve been writing about Google’s path to total world domination, and the debate over whether it will succeed.

Today’s smackdown is not for Google vs. Microsoft (or Yahoo or Nokia or Apple or even China). Instead, it’s a debate in the WSJ between two academics studying Google — over whether Google will achieve total world domination:

  1. In one corner: best-selling management author, consultant, former HBS lecturer and London Business School visiting professor: Gary Hamel!
  2. In the other corner: Harvard Business School network economy expert (and tenure-track associate professor) Tom Eisenmann!

Hamel is about to publish a book The Future of Management which praises Google for inventing a new management style. Meanwhile, Eisenmann says that what made Google successful in delivering Internet experience will have to be changed if it becomes a more conventional software company.

While Eisenmann is a casual friend, in terms of the quality of their ideas I’m seriously torn. Hamel has been the “big idea” strategist with books like Leading the Revolution and Competing for the Future, with a particular strength in helping a top management team reshape their own and their industry’s cognitive map. Meanwhile, Eisenmann has written most of the good technology cases out of HBS in the past decade, as well as one of the few plausible papers about the two-sided markets fad.

How do I decide? I’ve seen too many academics (or consultants) take their one hammer and assume everything is a nail. So I’ll go with Eisenmann’s argument because in the past he’s always understood the fundamentals of the industries and firms he covers.

Does Google think it will achieve TWD?
“We’re happy to have folks do case studies on their own,” says Google spokeswoman Sunny Gettinger, “but we focus on our core business and generally don’t actively participate in them or seek them out. Likewise, we don't monitor the results closely.”
Translation: we don’t see any payoff in cooperating with academics and telling our competitors about our secret sauce.

Clearly Google will someday get its comeuppance. But Microsoft had a 20-year run — while IBM had a 25-year run (or 70 years if you count punched cards) — so it’s not clear whether Google will hit the wall before or after it gets to Total World Domination.

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