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Counter to Google

A few years ago I attended the MIT Research Director’s Conference. The Research Director’s Conference is part of the MIT Industrial Liason Program, which provides member companies with access to MIT’s research labs and staff. I have worked with two companies that participated in the ILP, and each spent considerable money to belong so that people like me could visit the Media Lab and attend such conferences along with technical managers and leaders from many of the world’s top companies. At that particular conference I found myself listening to Nicholas Negraponte (founder of MIT Media lab) telling stories of his consulting for Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx. Mr. Smith was looking for new ways to expand his business, in a world where email was rapidly reducing the volume of paper douments overnighted via courier services. Mr. Negraponte told a brief story of how he travels so much he has little tolerance for luggage, and instead has his clean shirts FedEx’d to his hotel in advance of his arrival. He sends his dirty shirts back in the same envelope. Noting how FedEx passes every single package through it’s central processing facility in Memphis, Tenessee, Negraponte told Mr. Smith to install a dry cleaner in Memphis, so the next time his dirty shirts go through they can get cleaned and folded along the way. He also noted he was willing to pay a pemium for that service.

Of course the point was innovation. The key to surviving and thriving was creativity and innovation. Everybody knew it, but could everyone demonstrate it with clever suggestions like that one? No. And at that conference I found myself surrounded by technical and management leaders from great companies around the world, and we all appreciated more than anything else, the eye-opening aspects of the conference.

During one session a Thought Leader noted that Pirelli the Tire Company had sent several representatives, as they did every year. Pirelli was the largest rubber tire manufacturer in the world. Or was it? No, we were told. Despite the tremendous presence of Pirelli as the dominant manufacturer of tires in the world, well ahead of all other brands and seemingly in control of much of the worlds tire-making raw materials, there was another company that was quietly producing more tires than Pirelli year after year, and whose tire manufacturing capacity had been increasing steadily while almost no one in the tire industry paid attention. In fact, the speaker presented some numbers which proved this unnamed company was on a path to increase tire production even further that year. Did anyone else know about this?

Well that company was Lego, and it was in fact true that Lego manufactured more tires than Pirelli or any other large tire manufacturer, and was on an enviable growth path by any measure.

Innovation. Creativity. Thinking outside the box.

The Google way is the way Google makes money, not the way Google improves the world. That point seems to be lost on a generation of Googlelovers who spit vitriol at those they view as “rule breakers”, and proclaim Google as a great and almost benevolent company (see the comments here). I’m tired of it. But I am more tired of the ignorance that fuels that mis-guided perspective. If Google is extracting billions of dollars in profits from world markets, somebody is paying that bill. It appears to be web publishers, although the jury is still out on that. The Followers seem to believe that value can be created from scratch, or perhaps that there is an infinite pool of money stored somewhere from which these benevolent corporations draw their profits.

To run counter to Google is to innovate. To follow the rules is to participate. There is no evil, and there is no “do no evil” and there is no “benevolent corporation”. There is a market for goods and services, there are vehicles for serving those markets, and there are individuals taking the profits off the table to build 280 million dollar yachts. You are free to choose to participate or innovate, just as you are free to take a job or work for yourself. As always, as a participant you settle for the wages offered… the GoogleCrumbs from AdSense (the rest pays for the yacht). As for running Counter to Google, well, there is no limit except the limit of your ability to innovate.