Google’s products fail because they encourage innovation at all costs, even the chance of failure. They know very well that markets shift, interests change, and competition emerges where none existed previously.
There’s a good parallel between Google’s approach to business and the military strategist Claude von Clausewitz’s approach to warfare: Clausewitz’s key insight was that a “fog of war” exists beyond which even the most seasoned and expert military planners could not see. The key to success in any military operation therefore was the ability to adapt to the unforeseen actions of one’s enemy and a dynamic environment. Google’s “enemies” are it’s competitors, and the overall marketplace forms the field of battle.
Google *does* operate with overarching motives, but they’re a little hard to decipher (perhaps deliberately so, as any decent military commander understands the importance of deception and misdirection). Nevertheless, looking at their successes, one can see they clearly understand the value in extracting user preferences and tailoring services to people’s needs. The breadth of this stretches from website rankings to image searching (where there is still much room to improve) to providing directions to drivers (Google maps is still superior to any other platform’s service). They were pioneers in delivering streaming video content, investing in YouTube when no one else saw the potential and disrupting traditional content providers long before Netflix and others who have since taken over innovation in that category. Their news aggregation tool sent shockwaves through the traditional providers of such content. Oh yeah, and a little thing called ‘Android’ accounts for 85% of all mobile device OSes worldwide.
If anything, Google’s coming problems stem not from a lack of adhering to some master plan but stakeholders and investors who don’t value it’s ability to disrupt through innovation and would rather see it transform into some staid blue chip leader like Microsoft or IBM. Microsoft had an overarching vision (remember?): focus on the desktop and desktop applications, and tie everything together with a framework that you control top to bottom.