Book Review: What Would Google Do?

Engage the pox…

Over the last few weeks, I was waylaid by shingles. Shingles! It felt like something out of a Dickens novel, like carbuncles or gout. What a horrible affliction. Thankfully, I had a mild case.

On the plus side, I was able to do some catching up on some reading.

I finished Jeff Jarvis’s terrific What Would Google Do? What started out as a blog battle with Dell Computer led blogger/journalist  Jarvis (Buzz Machine) to contemplate how business has changed in the internet age.

In the first part, Jarvis describes the Google model: not Google, the company (which is sometimes criticized for being un-Google-like) but Google, the experience. He shows how the new world order is one of openness, public-ness, transparency, and collaboration. Essentially, he takes the Cluetrain Manifesto and blows it out to apply its principles to the broader business environment.

The most compelling part of the book was If Google Ruled the World where Jarvis applies Google-like thinking to various industry sectors including: media, entertainment, advertising, retail, insurance, transportation, utilities, manufacturing, services, banking, healthcare, and government. He contemplates what an airline might do to embrace the new world order: perhaps using its lounges to connect like-minded people travelling on the same flight. He wonders if insurance could run more as a true cooperative, where people could use peer pressure to encourage their fellow pool-mates to quit smoking or hit the treadmill.

It made me think a lot about my world and the traditional model of management consulting, which has traditionally been run by so-called industry or functional experts using proprietary methods (read: 25-year-old biz-grads who’ve never worked in industry charging exorbitant hourly rates…) (Yes, I am cynical, but not without cause. As background, my first job out of my liberal arts undergrad degree was with a travel agency. I think I made $10 per hour booking people on cheap trips to Jamaica. Less than a year later, and with no additional training, I was then hired by a then Big Six consulting firm that charged me out at $150 per hour. What justified the $140 per hour premium other than the client’s willingness to pay?) How will these firms stay relevant when they no longer have proprietary research (in the Google age, is anything truly proprietary? Even Google feels compelled to give people a peek behind the curtain now and then… ) When consultant profiles can be found on LinkedIn (or, more frighteningly, Facebook) will clients start to balk at the higher fees? And in the world of Skype and FaceTime and GoToMeeting.com, will everybody still be expected to climb on and off of planes? (True, some of the firms have people with deep expertise who need to be travelling, but the only rationale I could ever find for sending a 25-year-old Boston local to Topeka on an engagement is that one is more likely to generate those golden billable hours in a place away from family and friends.) Even if clients still want to hire these firms, will anyone want to work for them?

The Google model — the online model — is a disruptive force that will change the way business must think: ignore it at your peril. Jarvis’s book gave me plenty of food for thought as we come to terms with the world post 2.0.

I also read most of Atlas Shrugged. I continue to think Ayn Rand was a bit of a nutter on the philosophical front, but man can she write. And she teaches you more about how business thinks than the majority of “business books” out there. Essential reading indeed.

Next up is Hilary Austen’s Artistry Unleashed. In his foreword to the book, Rotman Dean Roger Martin writes “read this book as if your career depended on it. It is that important.” High praise indeed and I look forward to diving in.

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