|Learning Larry Page's Alphabet
By: Fast Company
"It’s kind of counterintuitive," Google cofounder Larry Page remarked a couple of years ago. "Normally in a business, you think about, ‘What’s the adjacent thing that I can do?’ But maybe you can actually do more projects that are less related to each other."
Back then, Page was explaining why his company—whose mission, officially, is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful—had expanded to address everything from teaching automobiles to drive to researching ways to extend the human life span. At the time, the insight seemed classic Page, a heartfelt defense of unconventional thinking. Today it feels like something more: a premonition of perhaps the most radical, labyrinthine corporate restructuring of the digital era.
Page released a letter last August announcing the reconfiguring of Google into a conglomerate called Alphabet. It described Alphabet as a new holding company that would be composed of independent operating units. The Google search engine and related businesses—including Android, Gmail, and YouTube, to name a few—would be just one of them, and although it wasn’t initially clear, Alphabet would be home to nine other companies, including Calico (the health care company whose goal is to lengthen life expectancy), Verily (the home of the company’s "smart" contact lens), X (its R&D arm), DeepMind (artificial intelligence), and Access (all of the company’s high-speed Internet initiatives). In February, Alphabet added its 11th unit when it elevated the think tank/tech incubator formerly known as Google Ideas into its own entity called Jigsaw.
So what holds these far-flung enterprises together? And why have they been organized in this fashion? These are among the most critical questions facing Techland, investors, and anyone who competes with any piece of the company formerly known as Google—which includes almost everyone.
Page has been typically reclusive since announcing Alphabet. (He was not interviewed for this article.) But that does not mean we can’t make sense of this newly arranged company. Page has never been content to stand still, compelled by hyperambitious efforts that he calls moonshots. Alphabet is itself a moonshot, hoping to overcome a raft of technological, social, and financial challenges endemic to a world of increasing change. To understand this larger imperative, we’ve focused in on six areas, each epitomized by the experience of—or model established by—another leading company: Microsoft, Nike, GE, Apple, Facebook, and Google itself in its earlier days. In deconstructing Alphabet’s opportunities and risks this way, a nuanced understanding of what Page might be after emerges.
So far, Alphabet is off to a rousing start: Shortly after it announced its first quarterly results in February, it briefly displaced Apple as the world’s most valuable company by stock-market capitalization (a feat that the old Google never accomplished). As Page explained in his August letter, "We’ve long believed that over time companies tend to get comfortable doing the same thing, just making incremental changes. But in the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant." Here are the revolutionary ABCs of Alphabet.
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This article was published on Fast Company. A link to the original piece appears after the post.
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