Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


What Would Google Do? (Published 2009)

By Jeff Jarvis 

 Narrated by Jeff Jarvis

Jeff Jarvis’s genuflection becomes tiresome by the end of his book, What Would Google Do?; not because Jarvis fails to provide interesting insight to changes in the way business can improve itself but in the naiveté of his perceived value of an open system company in the information age.


Jarvis attacks computer, automobile, newspaper, cable, real estate, and general manufacturing industries that choose to ignore Google’s open system management philosophy.  The fundamental distinction between open and closed system management is in a customer’s ability to change the way a company is operated.  Traditionally, customer impact on company management has been limited to a consumer’s decision to quit buying a product or paying for a service.  Google offers a system of management that allows customers a role in, not only management of companies, but design and sale of product and service.  Jarvis suggests that in an information age customer analytics are a pre-eminent determinant of business and societal success.  The argument is that monitoring and analyzing buying habits, consumer opinion, and customer use of product are keys to economic viability.  The inference is that businesses or societies that ignore customer analytics will fail.

In evaluating Google as a 21th century company, Jarvis is recounting a traditional business management philosophy taught by Peter Drucker in the 20th century.  Drucker insists on an organization knowing who its customer is before manufacturing product or offering service.  Drucker also insists on abandoning high profit margin businesses before revenue decline by continually inventing new product or service that meets changing customer demand.  And finally, just like Drucker, Jarvis insists that profit margins are not the key to success; i.e. Drucker explains that profit is just the cost of doing business.

Where Jarvis becomes tiresome is when he fails to note that customer analytics can be highly destructive to management of a company and the product it produces.  The idea of every business being used as a platform for change based on information technology is frightening.  Information is manipulated every day by geeks, pundits, and management gurus chasing their vision of success; i.e. visions that always relate to money, power, and/or prestige.  Google’s management is as susceptible, as any human being, to the character flaw of greed.

It is not that Jarvis is drinking Reverend Jones’ kool-aid but he takes his idea of Google’s perfection to an idealistic extreme.  A perfect irony of Jarvis’s idealism is his Apple computer preference which is produced by Apple’s closed system organization.  Jarvis suggests that Apple is somehow unique because of the genius of Jobs but one doubts Apple will change to an open system with Jobs’ death.  As reported in the news recently, Apple received a huge settlement from Samsung for software infringement.

It is unfair to say that Google is not offering something great with open system management.  This blog would not exist without the open system created by WordPress (not affiliated with Google) that allows the “geekless” to become a part of the World Wide Web.

One has to agree with some of Jarvis’ observations but it is too soon to write off the auto, newspaper, and other industries because they have not adopted an open system mentality.  Technology of the newspaper industry may evolve to make reporters on the beat that much more important than they were before creation of the World Wide Web. The same goes for all companies that are struggling with technological change in the information age.

As Jarvis positively points out, Obama’s ability to tap the World Wide Web showed open system value in offsetting some of “big” money’s distortion of the American political system.  That offset is tarnished in this election year because Obama is compelled to raise money from big donors to remain competitive.  Also, one can observe what Fareed Zakaria noted in his book, “The Future of Freedom”, that democracy is fatally distorted by elected official’s that vote based on political polls rather than independent, representative conscience.  Political polling is a manipulated art form in this open system age.

Human nature is not changed by the advent of customer analytics or open system management.  The danger is that too much personal information is gathered that may serve interests of the few at the expense of truth and individuality; i.e. opinion polls, managed by vested interests, manipulate truth; fomenting a herd mentality caused by focus group surveys that mock independent thinking.

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