Monday, February 16, 2009

Search Insider: No Rest For The Not-Evil

No Rest For The Not-Evil

AFTER TEN YEARS OF HARD work, during which you answer trillions and trillions of queries, in the process creating millions upon millions of happy customers and donating millions upon millions to worthy causes, ultimately generating well over $100 billion in market capitalization (even at today's deflated stock price), one would think that you'd earned a bit of a rest.

Not so.

In the foreword to Geoffrey Moore's "Crossing the Chasm," Regis McKenna says, "Our emerging and evolving markets are demanding continual adaptation and renewal, not only in times of difficulty but on the heels of our greatest successes as well. Which of us would not prefer a little more time to savor that success, to reap a little longer what we cannot help but feel are our just rewards? It is only natural to cling to the past when the past represents so much of what we have strived to achieve."

Two weeks ago, I suggested that the very nature of Twitter as a below-the-radar, disruptive model gave it the potential to unseat Google in search. Now Silicon Alley Insider's John Borthwick is drawing parallels between AOL's sense of dominance ten years ago and Google's sense of dominance today (yes, he's got a financial stake in Twitter, but that doesn't stop him from making clever observations).

Borthwick had the fortune or misfortune, depending on your worldview (I prefer "fortune"), to be there when Clay Christensen, author of "The Innovator's Dilemma," told a group of execs at AOL that they weren't nearly as invulnerable as they thought they were:

[Christensen] said time and time again disruptive business confuse adjacent innovation for disruptive innovation. They think they are still disrupting when they are just innovating on the same theme that they began with. As a consequence they miss the grass roots challenger - the real disruptor to their business. The company who is disrupting their business doesn't look relevant to the billion dollar franchise, its often scrappy and unpolished, it looks like a sideline business, and often its business model is TBD. With the AOL story now unraveled - I now see search as fragmenting and Twitter search doing to Google what broadband did to AOL.

Christensen is right, as is McKenna. In this world we only ever have two choices: renewal or death. Just because you've watered your plants for ten years doesn't mean they won't die if you stop.

You may think my metaphor is stupid, but we behave this way all the time. How often do you take the time to tell your loved ones how important they are to you? Appreciation is to relationships as water is to plants as reinvention and renewal are to business.

I believe Google is continually looking to reinvent itself -- hence its purchase of any startup with a pulse. But there's a reason these scrappy and unpolished disruptors inevitably come from the outside. It's because, if they were internal, they would never be able to break free from the shadow of their 800-pound older sibling.

If you are in business and you are at all worried about your future, listen to Christensen. Listen to Moore. Listen to your customers and to those people you wish were your customers. Realize that you have to prove yourself anew every single day. Water the plants.

But never, ever, listen to your own hype. It will distract you, and then it will blind you, and ultimately it will kill you.

Kaila Colbin blogs for VortexDNA, whose technology can improve relevance for search engines, ecommerce sites, or any other recommendation service.

Search Insider for Monday, February 16, 2009:

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