Has Google outgrown ‘do no evil’?

Google this week moved their servers from mainland China to Hong Kong. It signals their best possible response to the dilemma of balancing their mantra of “do no evil” against a Chinese government intent on censoring and limiting the way the search company tries to organize the world’s information.

Caught up in mud-slinging between the US and Chinese governments and a Chinese cyber attack on some of its senior engineers, Google is also facing some serious strategic issues.

Against the backdrop of their significant success these latest issues may seem trivial. They are however as a result of their successful strategy to date and indicate some of the challenges that only arise when an organization gets to the size of Google.

Over the next years they are going to need to completely re-think the strategic approach on which founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin built the company.

‘The bigger they are the harder they fall’ is a reminder to Google that it cannot step as nimbly and unobtrusively as it did in its early years where it boldly took on a number of markets which it quickly dominated. Now every move has bigger consequences.

One such play is the Apple / Microsoft / Google showdown. Apple is thinking of replacing it’s default search on its iPhone with Microsoft’s Bing while Google’s Android is competing head on with the iPhone. What sounded like a great idea, launch a phone, is now looking like a long hard battle for market share against a formidable foe in Apple. On another front, Google is squaring off against the European community where there are growing problems on the antitrust front with either lawsuits or threatened lawsuits by Italy, France and Germany.

Building relationships with governments and co-existing with some seriously ambitious competitors and partners is going to become more and more important to their strategic thinking.

At 12 years old, Google heads into its teenage years facing many of the confusing dilemmas teenagers discover, often to their horror. Suddenly not everyone loves them and each decision seems to have ever more far reaching consequences. Without a clear view of the future the complexity can be bewildering.

With everyone wanting to take a bite out of them, often in markets that they have themselves created, the balance between creating new success and holding on to success is likely to even out. Their strategy will need to address this.

All the while “do no evil” is starting to sound a little quaint.

Methods of persuasion

Strategy is no good without getting people to follow it. If you have cleared up your strategic direction then you could look to Aristotle on how to persuade people to follow you.

My friend and colleague Liz shared Aristotle’s wisdom on modes of persuasion at a leadership development programme that we co-facilitated earlier this week.

Aristotle proposed that there were three modes of persuasion; Logos, Pathos & Ethos.

Logos – persuading people with logic
Pathos – persuading people through emotion or a passionate appeal
Ethos – persuading people through your character

What’s your dominant approach and how could you be more persuasive?

Ueli Gegenschatz, lots of practice and a matching mental attitude

Ueli Gegenschatz
Ueli Gegenschatz
One of the most incredible things I have seen is Ueli Gegenschatz base flying along the side of a cliff in his wing suit. The closest thing to humans flying showing incredible skill and ability. In this video he takes us through his progression from parachuting, skydiving, sky surfing and then base jumping, what he called the purest form of human flight.

Incredible visuals and demonstrating how to achieve a personal strategy in an incremental way.

Sadly, after a BASE jumping accident on Nov. 11 2009, Ueli died in a Swiss hospital.

This post is in memory of a visionary athletic pioneer.

You can watch his fascinating talk at ted.com and the video is included below.

Video Blog: Springbok Coach Gary Gold on Strategy

Gary Gold
Gary Gold
Gary Gold and I sat down this week and recorded a video blog about his strategy when he decided to become a professional rugby coach. He’s had a very successful stint as part of the team that won both the Tri-Nations and the Lions Tour last year.

I really enjoyed the advice he had for rugby coaches wanting to make a career professionally.

The video is in two parts.

Part 1:

Part 2

The limitation of goals

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs

By admission I am a bit of an Apple fan. From when I first worked on a Macintosh when I was in college in 1987, they have always stood out as unique and special. I remember the great fonts and graphical user interface all those years before Windows was even conceived.

If you have never taken 15 minutes to watch Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement address, and you are interested in the strategies used by one of the most successful people in the world, then now is the time to grab a cup of coffee, listen and learn.

In a refreshingly candid look at his own life and some of the successes and failures he has experienced, Jobs debunks some of the myths about living your life with set goals and objectives. He also shows how goals would have limited his success.

Fortune named him CEO of the decade for his work in significantly shifting four industries; computers, music, mobile and movies. Many people would advocate that to achieve on the level of Jobs would require focused goals worked at over many years. While this may be a strategy for some people, this approach is a million miles from the success story of Steve Jobs.

In the speech, Jobs tells three stories from his life:

Joining the dots backwards

Jobs dropped out of college after concluding that the financial strain on his middle class parents was too much. He spent a further 18 months on campus just taking the courses he loved rather than the ones he was previously required to take for his course.

One was on calligraphy where he learned about type faces and what makes great typography. At the time he couldn’t see any hope of this knowledge being applied practically.

However 10 years later, that calligraphy course deeply influenced the first Apple computers and those very fonts that impressed me in college would never have been there were if not for the calligraphy course he took after dropping out of college.

It was impossible for him to join the dots looking forward. In retrospect he could join them backwards and see the importance of that seemingly random decision to take that course.

His message, you have to trust (rather than plan) that the dots will connect down the road because that gives you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-known path. That will make all the difference.

Love and loss

When Jobs was fired from Apple, the company he founded, he was initially devastated and felt very publicly humiliated. Although rejected, Jobs still loved what he did and he decided to start over.

The heaviness of being successful was replaced with the lightness of being a beginner as he explored other business ventures and entered the most creative period of his life where he founded two companies, Pixar and Next.

Pixar became the most successful animation company and in a strange turn of events Apple bought Next and Jobs returned to be CEO of Apple. The technology that Next had produced became the backbone for the resurgence of Apple computers and is at the core of the success the company has achieved in the past decade.

His message, love what you do. You have to find what you love and trust (not plan) that the details will take care of themselves.


Having heard the quote, “If you live each day as if it were your last, someday you will most certainly be right, Jobs was faced with his own mortality when he was diagnosed with pancreas cancer.

Faced with death he concluded that he needed to live every day as if it was the last day of his life. Waking up each morning he evaluates what he is doing and questions whether he would do the same thing if it were the last day of his life. If not for two many days, then he knows he needs to change something.

This removes all pride and embarrassment of failure. He says, “We are already naked and remembering that we are going to die is the best way of avoiding the trap of thinking that you have something to lose.”

This, rather than a carefully mapped out plan, is what Job’s uses to decide his priorities and what he is working on.

In conclusion

  • Don’t live other peoples lives
  • Don’t be trapped by dogma
  • Follow your heart and intuition

And from Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogue, Jobs quotes:

  • Stay hungry
  • Stay foolish

Watch the video (15 mins).

The best company to work for

Jim Goodnight on the SAS campus
Jim Goodnight on the SAS campus

Fortune released their 100 best companies to work for survey last month and the winner was a company that not everybody would have heard of, SAS. Not the airline which is better known but the privately owned software company in North Carolina.

If thinking about cool tech companies to work for, most people would think of high-profile Google but SAS beats Google by 3 places and in fact Google modeled their people policies on the older SAS (founded 1976).

Besides being privately held, there are a couple of other peculiarities about SAS such as the founder CEO who has been the CEO since he founded the company and still enjoys huge respect in the industry.

106,000 pieces of art, a hotel on campus (equivalent to a Four Seasons) hotel, masseurs and a day hospital for day-to-day medical visits all make up the uniqueness the company. Another peculiarity is the average weekly work hours which are 35, well below the minimum 60 hour work weeks in Silicon Value. Jim Goodnight, a programmer himself, understands that after 7 or 8 hours it’s hard to stay productive.

The company has always had a no layoff policy although people can get fired for poor performance. Talking about GE and Jack Welch, Goodnight disputes Welch’s claim that he fired the lowest 10% of GE staff each year. “He said that in his book but I don’t believe he ever did it… you would end up with a hugely unmotivated staff and it would cost a fortune to fire that many people every year”, says Goodnight.

You can view a detailed interview with Dr. Jim Goodnight and Rich Karlgaard the Publisher of Forbes Magazine recorded in November 2009. The Fortune article announcing the 100 best companies gives more details and lists the other companies.