Book Review: What Would Google Do?

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Jeff Jarvis’s has written a terrific book in his 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 not Google, the company (which is sometimes criticized for being un-Google-like) but Google, the experience. He shows how the Google model creates a new world of openness, publicness, 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. 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 Snapchat!) will clients start to balk at the high hourly rates? And in the world of Skype and FaceTime, 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.