Google is trending to be a company with power that eclipses Microsoft, IBM and AT&T combined and, partially anticipating a Microsoft Evil Empire-like set of problems, they have taken on Big Oil with their aggressive alternative energy strategy. This movement could have global implications for them and for us.
A lot of us lust after fame and fortune and would like to imagine what it would be like to be rich and popular like Steve Jobs or Larry Ellison. The recent parody Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs gives you a view into the lives of some of these folks, giving you a sense of what that kind of power can do to a persons personality and life. Virtually no real friends, marriages that are more fluff than reality, and a near constant and overwhelming paranoia significantly offset the advantages that this wealth and power grant.
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Finally, one of the big battles this year was the one between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. Over the Black Friday weekend, the total number of HD-DVD players purchased so far reached 750,000 players. There are a number of lessons on why Blu-Ray has become the albatross around Sonys neck and Id like to close this week making sure you dont make similar mistakes.
Google: Learning from Microsofts Mistakes
One of the things that someone like me who has been in the market a long time finds very frustrating is the repetition of mistakes. It gets incredibly dull to provide the same advice over and over again to address problems that should have been easily avoided the 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th time. Yet that is what seems to happen. Companies dont look at their predecessors or peers very closely and so constantly repeat the same mistakes over, and over, and over again. They lose billions while saving thousands by scrimping on a good analyst team that would help them make informed decisions.
Google may turn out to be the exception for at least one big problem: image. Whether it was Standard Oil, AT&T, IBM, or Microsoft, when a company gets large it both gets an image problem and grows a tendency to misuse its power, exacerbating this problem. With all of the companies, short of Microsoft (which really still doesnt seem to even comprehend they have a problem) this repeating issue has cost them billions to correct in image recovery.
Google is the first Ive observed to get ahead of the curve and move to address their image issues before they become too pronounced. By selecting alternative energy as their philanthropic platform they touch everyone on an issue that is both topical and of increasing concern. In addition its politically powerful, making it advantageous to side with Google and disadvantageous to move against them.
The risk is going to war with the Oil Cartels and these guys dont have much of a sense of humor. Still, Google has been defined by big bets that have paid off for them successfully and this may very well do that.
The lesson here is that image is important. How you are perceived can drive you in, or out, of a market and moving on image problems early and aggressively can have massive monetary and competitive benefits. Im just pleased that Google has apparently learned from one of Microsofts mistakes and doesnt feel the need to repeat it. I also really like the idea of someone standing up and doing something material about our addiction to Oil. So their action certainly resonates with me.