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Personal writings of Arjun Rao

The Big Picture

Category: Strategy

I generally consider myself to be a practitioner of the Stoicism school of thought. There have, however, been instances when I have been accused of exaggerating my feelings both in the case of youthful exuberance, as well as impending doom.

Let us consider all of that as I adumbrate the state of my mind after listening to the Google/Alphabet story that unfolded today. There are people who liken Google to Big Brother and think of it as the diabolical private sector twin of the NSA. I am not one of them . I have always thought of Google to be a cornucopia of ideas that have constantly pushed humans technologically to places we didn't know existed, whether it is machine learning in understanding what is a cat photo and what isn't, popularizing the notion of videos to change how we express ourselves or investing in operating systems that power a big percentage of devices used by people around the globe. Be it mergers/acquisitions or home-growing an idea internally and making it known to the world, Google always left little doubt about how they viewed technology and envisioned its existence in the lives of people. Google, as by now the whole world probably knows, announced something pretty drastic. The Alphabet announcement is the reason for the current state of my mind. I can see a vast majority of people treating this as evanescent news. There are many corporations that undergo reorganization as it is the one constant in the lifespan of a company. I will try to list a few reasons why this isn't "just another reorg".

Companies that are at the peak of their prowess, do not just decide to switch gears so drastically. It is symptomatic of something much larger. Hold on to that thought. I will get back to what I mean by "something much larger" at the end of this article. In fact, most of the times that companies undergo large scale reorganizations, are generally facing some malaise. A couple of examples spring to mind. Companies like Blackberry and HP/Compaq weren't exactly in the pink of health, when they underwent large scale changes. Standard Oil, in Rockefeller's days, is another example of drastic reorganization, which was incidentally forced upon them, due to accusations of monopoly crushing the free market. I wish to present a contradistinction to these scenarios by suggesting that Google's reorganization is nothing like any of those.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page are in their early 40's. Stepping away from anything that you have heavily invested in can happen in a minimum of two ways. You have either forced out of your position due to bad life decisions or you have turned into a doddering old fool who cannot shape the contents of his/her thoughts. Stepping away from Google when it is at the zenith of its capabilities, means that there is something so much bigger that attracts two multi-billionaires towards it. At this point, someone may argue that it is impeccably clear to anyone that Alphabet will be a conglomerate and a super-set of what Google is, so the point I just made is obvious. I will continue to be adamant and insist that that view is too topical. The Google duo have just made a shrewd move on a giant chessboard.  A chessboard, that includes squares that touch upon human immortality, space exploration, human interconnectivity and existential interaction.

While there were constant improvements to their existing product portfolio, Google was in that phase where it was kind of coasting along. I mean they have paid their dues over the last several years, so no one could fault them for that. BOOM. With this announcement, they have turned business as we know it, on its head. This is such a start-up'sh response to current events, something I would have deemed unthinkable in the "enterprise" space. It is a big "EFF YOU" to companies like Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft and to an extent even Facebook, who have stayed homogeneous for so many years. I have a sneaky suspicion that this might fuel an "arms race" among companies, in terms of acquisitions of cross-sector assets to build up a more holistic story and to catch up with this broad vision of corporate thought that Google shone upon us. It is also setting the bar for greenhorn startups and future generations to expand horizons of thinking, when they put their nose to the grindstone. It will no longer suffice to have a successful mobile application doing 'A' particular thing when the universe of possibilities calls for us. Reaching for the stars is no longer a phrase to inspire advancement, but an actual goal for all humanity. The shots have been fired. The rest of us, now need to play catch up.

Google has always had a much grander stratagem in place, that some might even call world domination. I, however, think it is far beyond that. I do not mean that in a nefarious way. I believe, that Google is aiming for galactic domination because this world just isn't big enough to house our growing expansionist minds. Google isn't alone in this space, pun intended. There are several thought leaders like Branson and Musk, among few others, who are challenging the frontiers of human jurisdiction as we know it. ( This is not to take away from agencies like NASA/ESA who have sent space probes to the far reaches of the solar system ). At this point in time, I don't believe that people like Brin, Musk, Branson or Zuckerberg care about how many customers use their services or how much revenue is brought in yearly, for its immediate context. Sure, they do still want to make money and be the leaders in the markets they are vying for. For these guys the bigger picture, however, is much more than quarterly reports and customer attrition rate. They are focused on building a legacy that will last beyond them. A legacy that will push humanity to bounds of insanity. A legacy that will catapult mankind into the next millennium and bring us closer to Asimov's Galactic Empire.