Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Google's Culture Wars - Will Innovation Still Thrive?

Google's "20% time" has been legendary in terms of how many successful innovations it has helped Google bring to the market. Basically, Google allows its employees to use up to 20 percent of their work week at Google to pursue special projects. That means for every standard work week, employees can take a full day to work on a project unrelated to their normal workload. Google claims that many of their products in Google Labs started out as pet projects in the 20 percent time program.

That might be a thing of the past in the not so distant future...

At least that's what many in the industry are thinking out loud based on the recent demise of Google Reader, a popular tool for reading RSS feeds. Adding salt to injury, the original Google Reader, Chris Wetherell, says that he wouldn't have founded Google Reader within Google as the company exists today. Instead, he would have just gone elsewhere or started his own company. As Alex Kantrowitz explains in his blog on Forbes.com, "Wetherell’s comments highlight a problem Google might face now that Reader is shutting down. The company has long benefited from a culture of innovation which has helped it turn employee side projects like Gmail, Google News and Ad Sense into core offerings. But, with the understanding that even successful products can be killed in the future, the company’s employees might now have less of an incentive to launch their ideas within Google, and innovation at the company may suffer as a result."

The Bottom Line
Personally, here's what I think:
  1. Google is devoting significant resources to it's social networking endeavors and has decided to redirect resources utilized on Google Reader to Google Plus. As a publicly traded company with a shareholder price to worry about, this type of cost/benefit analysis is to be expected. 
  2. There could be a bit of "sour grapes" on part of the Google Reader's founder who of course would be personally attached to his invention.
  3. It is a stretch to extrapolate that Google might either discontinue to 20% time or that employees would not use this time to explore their ideas in fear that their ideas would be squashed at some later time. One data point is just not enough to arrive at that conclusion. In statistical terms, this one observation could be deemed as an "outlier" - an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data and is often excluded from analysis.
I really don't think Google is going to be any less innovative than it was before. Let's not proclaim that the sky is falling just yet...

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