Is Google reinventing corporate management or just living off the fruits of one big breakthrough?
It's an interesting question that has no definitive answer. The question was raised in a Wall Street Journal story (subscription required) that contrasts two case studies--one from management consultant Gary Hamel and one from Harvard Business School associate professor Thomas Eisenmann.
Hamel has a book called "The Future of Management" coming this fall that will argue that Google is more than an algorithm. He argues that Google is redefining management with radical decentralization, small teams and innovation. Hamel makes Google sound almost Borg-ish in its ability to evolve on the fly and absorb knowledge.
Eisenmann argues that Google will need more discipline and hierarchy as it tries to diversify into new markets such as productivity software and e-commerce. Eisenmann agrees that Google has been great at creating interesting ideas, but there's no guarantee these will be revenue generators.
The two sides are interesting ends of the Google spectrum and for now both are right. Google's culture has turned out a lot of interesting ideas, but Hamel's take that the search giant is redefining management seems to be a bit much.
Why? Google hasn't even hit its adolescent phase. Google's history has been all about good times and market domination. Show us how Google manages adversity, the doubling of its workforce and tackles new markets and then we can judge the management practices.
It's also too early to see whether Eisenmann is right although I'm inclined to believe he's closer to reality than Hamels. Google will have to develop more management discipline as it grows. Why? Big companies can't operate like small ones forever. That's the downside of being huge.
For me, Google doesn't have the track record to claim much of anything regarding management practices. In technology I look to Cisco Systems as a company to study. Cisco rode the dot-com boom, lived through the collapse and is in a great position for the next phase of the Internet buildout. All of that retooling happened on the fly with Cisco CEO John Chambers at the helm. We should let Google's model ripen for a while and study Cisco's management model in the meantime.