The Smartest Guys in the Room

futurelab default header

A leading ad agency creative type jumped ship last week to join the Google Creative Lab, following in the footsteps of others who’ve joined the 50-person unit to accomplish nothing less than winning the Nobel Peace Prize, according to one of its leaders.

(Image Credit: Renowned genius Alfred E. Neuman, from Distility)

A bit more seriously, the Lab is intended to explore ways to further the Google brand broadly by doing specific experimental advertising projects. It has been around for 3 years or so, and is just one of a myriad of diverse activities in which Google is engaged, from fielding vehicles that can be driven remotely to working on renewable energy production. It sells a mobile phone and gives away things like an Internet browser, online office collaboration tools, and a VOIP calling service. It’s cataloging every book ever printed. Etc.

Haven’t we seen something like this before?

Smart people come up with a brilliant idea that makes them fantastically rich, and then they go about setting their brilliance on other subjects, products, or endeavors that should be destined for similarly great accomplishments. Only they fail. Repeatedly. The only thing that keeps them going (and keeps those around them encouraging such dedication) are the riches that the original and sole brilliant idea keep spinning off. Then the original and sole brilliant idea falters — cash slows or disappears as the core business goes into decline — whether from disregard or simply gets replaced by someone else’s original and sole brilliant idea.


It seems to happen a lot in the technology world. Microsoft is a perfect example, relying on a core OS product to fund experiments in mobile phones, music players, and games, among other projects. Successful retailers do it, too, like Starbucks using its excruciating large profit margin on coffee sales to fund a diverse food and chochtke offering. Sometimes big name brands use successful core products to pay for extensions to the brand, in hopes of capturing incrementally more customers (this is why there are a hundred variations of toothpaste brands filling drug store shelves).

Every time, the people behind the strategies are smarter than all the others who came before them (and failed miserably). History doesn’t apply as anything more than an outdated cautionary tale about what happens to fools who are less brilliant than we are. The strange thing is that the journalists and analysts tasked to monitor and judge these efforts are just as willing to buy the this time, it’s different rationale as the subjects of their analyses. Twitter has no reasonable expectation for making money? No worries, those guys are the smartest guys in the room. Ditto for Facebook. Starbucks pot-holders? They’ll figure out how to apply their magic.

This time, it’s different.

I wonder. Are consumers also just as forgetful of the past, or unable to discern truth from fiction? Wait, don’t answer that.

It just seems to me that Google should be spending oodles of money on making sure it stays in control of search. Its brand would benefit from declaring such focus and expectation of success. Making such a public commitment would perhaps scare away lesser rivals from trying to best it? Imagine if Microsoft had similarly decided to make sure its OS business would evolve and lead the market instead of treating it like a cash cow that will sometime in the reasonably near future lose all its relevance?

The people at Google are the smartest guys when it comes to search, or at least they were at one time. Everything else is up for grabs and risks being a distraction, doesn’t it?

Image1 by: OZinOH

Original Post: