Four Lessons from Googled

Lessons from GoogledI just finished Googled, The End of the World as We Know It, by Ken Aulletta, arguably the best media critic of our times. And while it’s not a social media book per se, I would strongly suggest it belongs on the list as it’s chock full of anecdotes, insights and implications for any company that wants to compete on the new media battlefield.

There are amusing yet telling stories, like Mel Karmazin’s first visit to Google in 2003, when he actually declared that measurement was “fucking with the magic,” implying that ad dollars should go to the best sales person not the most effective medium.

Lesson:  arrogance can’t win in the new digital democracy.

Throughout the book readers find constant reminders (AOL, Excite, Lycos, Digital, Wang) that we can’t predict; we can only prepare.  Combine them with great examples of what Clayton Christenson labeled the “innovator’s dilemma,” (NY Times, network television, music industry) and chances are you’ll do a better job of identifying your own tendency to defend existing business models at the expense of embracing necessary change.

Lesson: don’t hold on to the past with too tight a grip.

Through Auletta’s filter we discover all that Google did right (20 percent, belief in the wisdom of crowds, do no evil mantra) as well as where they failed (China censorship, for one) and what their greatest challenges maybe in the years to come (trust, privacy, government intervention).

Impressive is Google’s willingness to experiment, take risks and innovate and along with their relentless standard of hiring only “spectacular” people, even if it means Sergey and Larry have to interview every single engineering applicant.

Lesson:  first, create a culture.

And finally, while Auletta gets to Google’s shortcomings and excesses, this book is as much about those of us who aren’t Google. Why didn’t the NY Times invent CNN or become a search engine? How is it Sports Illustrated didn’t start ESPN? What about AOL the company that launched Instant Messenger losing that space to Facebook?

Lesson:  even if you’re a media company find a way to hire engineers and developers.

The end of the world as we know it can be interpreted any number of ways.  From our loss of privacy, to the concentrated control of one company, to the need for the rest of us to think differently.

Have you read this book? If so, what meaning does it have for your business?