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.

Author: Dale Williams

Dale is based in Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa from where he maintains connections with people all over the world through his portfolio life.