(Q: Would you rather I post the full thing here? Leave a comment.)
To me, the amazing thing about this interview is how
much it demonstrates the continuing vibrancy of Google as both a
company and an intellectual community. Not that I know from experience, but I think one of the biggest problems that companies face as they go from startup to big mega-corporation is decadence.
This, essentially, is the problem
facing the news industry. When you are a young and cash poor startup, you cannot survive without adaptability and creativity. Your survival depends on your vitality. The forces of inertia and gravity are against you. But when
you get big and especially when you have serious barriers to
entry erected around your business (as there are in both the internet search business and as there were for such a long time in the
newspaper business), it becomes harder and harder to sustain the intellectual
discipline and focus that drives a company to prominence in the first
To render an existing business entrepreneurial, management
must take the lead in making obsolete its own products and services rather than
waiting for a comepetitor to do so. The business must be managed so as to
perceive in the new an opportunity rather than a threat. It must be managed to work today on the products, services, processes, and technologies
that will make a difference tomorrow.
This is really, really hard for the
human mind to do. In our brains, we discount the future and the new because they are uncertain. The established, the current is real and tangible and known. And as human beings, we like that.
This fact makes Drucker's advice really hard to follow. Moreover, this discounting gives the established order and established businesses a certain amount of
unfair staying power. Investors invest in the known because it is––or
seems––stable. Users use existing products (even when better options
exist) because it costs either money, time or energy to switch to some new
product that they then must learn anew.
And yet in the long run, it is this force that the competitive venture must fight if it wants to survive and even flourish over the long term. The same is true not just of business but of ideas more generally. John Stuart Mill actually talked about the phenomenon back in the 1800's in his badass essay,"On Liberty":
Peculiar doctrines are more questioned, and have to be oftener defended against open gainsayers. Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there is no enemy in the field.
Ignore the archaic language. Here's the point: The new (idea, business, etc.) must prove itself where the old need not. And that discipline, that experience of having to overcome the inertia and gravity of
the established order makes the new even better, even leaner and meaner and
more vital than it would be otherwise, like a penniless skier who has to hike
to the top of the mountain while the rich kids sip hot chocolate and ride the
ski lift. Even though the poor man will be out of breath when he gets to the
top, his legs will be interminably stronger. And in a fight, his mind will be
tougher, more resolved, more focused, and more unwilling to give up.
This is the upstart's leverage, and indeed it what the fat firms of yesteryear and yesterday must worry about the most. Which brings me back to my original point: By now, Google should be getting fat and lazy; but if
this interview is any indication, they are not. And that fact alone is