Google has restructured into the wild initiative Larry always wanted
Google’s restructure to create an ecosystem of independent tech brands under one holding company makes perfect sense. But this isn’t about Google. It’s all about Larry Page.
Like many companies, Google has a co-founder myth — “we started this together”. Co-founder myths are powerful stories, and have some advantages, giving equal credit to the key people who were there from the start. It’s a noble intention. It’s also never true. Two people can’t take the initiative on exactly the same idea at exactly the same moment. When you look carefully at the origin story of any initiative, there’s always one original founder, who recruited in the others to help them. At Google, Larry recruited Sergey.
Larry is the original founder of Google. This may sound like a small technicality, but it has profound implications. There’s always been one person more deeply connected to the deeper essence of what Google is all about and that’s Larry. This does not diminish the importance or value of Sergey. He was like the power player Larry needed to make his idea a reality. Without Sergey, Google may never have become the runaway success that it is today.
Google’s mission ‘to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible’ was never quite truthful. It was more like a post-rationalisation to explain its business once it was up and running.
The clues about the truth behind Google are there from its early days. The wildly successful search engine and related products like Maps just so happened to be the first products because it was the technical area Larry and Sergey knew best. But it was never about organising information. That wasn’t what got Larry excited.
What Google is really all about is what Larry Page is really all about. He was and still is a technology visionary, seeing the future, seeing what’s possible and what’s needed. Then forging a path to make it real. It’s far broader in scope than organising information.
Larry Page created the first early prototype of Google Streetview from his own car, taking a picture out of the window, driving 20 yards, taking another and so on. Then he stitched the images up when he got home and thought “Yep, we could do that with every yard of every street on the planet.” You can bet it was the technological excitement, the dream of what’s possible that drove him then and still drives him today.
And that’s why it always made sense for Larry to get his trusted partner Sergey to run Google X, the secretive tech research lab for long-term ‘moon-shot’ ideas. Sergey is deeply connected to Larry’s source of passion. Larry starting Google gave Sergey a playground beyond his own wildest dreams.
Google X always looked a bit odd as part of the search giant. In the context of Larry’s real initiative which just so happened to manifest first in the form of a search engine, it makes perfect sense. As do the robots, the AI, the fancy termostats and whatever the hell they do next.
So the restructure of Google under the new umbrella Alphabet is a restructure to reconnect Google to the founding vision of Larry Page. Alphabet’s individual companies can focus on specific technology or problems to solve, all the while the mothership is scanning the horizon for new opportunities.
The success of this ecosystem does not depend on the formal corporate structure or reporting lines that are designed as part of this big reshuffle. Larry must stay connected to his true passion and allow his energy for it to flow around the organisation. This will happen through all of his interactions and communication with colleagues, and through his own decisions and behaviour. If this happens, Alphabet will be a magnet for other wild technologists.
Also critical is the necessity to have one individual, clearly acknowledged vision-holder for each division. This looks promising for Google under Sundar Pichai. Providing Pichai stays within Larry’s overall creative field, he needs to be set free to own a new vision for the Google division, the next iteration of ‘organising the worlds information’.
The role of individual vision-holder cannot simply be appointed. It’s a role which emerges naturally at the start, and can be passed on through a succession process. The succession of the Google vision from Larry to Sundar needs to leave them both with no doubt that Larry is out and Sundar is in. This will ensure Sundar doesn’t just have the job title, but also the deep belief in himself that he really is holding the vision and can take whever nexts steps are necessary to realise it.
Perhaps the biggest question of all is what does this mean for the rest of us and the future of a Larry-powered world? Google is famous for its ‘do no evil’ principle. Yet it has been accused of doing the opposite. Ultimately what we will see play out with Alphabet is a reflection of the true Larry Page, good or evil.