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Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.

On Leadership Editor

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.
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Think Quarterly: New Google magazine hints at image shift for Internet giant

Earlier this week Google unveiled its first digital magazine, Think Quarterly. It’s a free online version of a hardcopy magazine the company created for its UK partners and advertisers; and though it was put on the Web with little fanfare, as with all things Google it quickly set off chatter throughout the blogosphere.

Some take it as another sign that Google is inching its way toward becoming a media company. (A claim the Internet giant refutes over and over again.) What Google calls the digital publication, though, is a simple communications tool. A typical corporate branding effort. Sure, it’s artfully produced, blushing with that fresh Google glow. But new consumer product launch this is not.

If that’s the case, then Think Quarterly gives us a interesting peek inside the image that Google wants its leadership set to see. The publication’s Twitter profile defines its mission as bringing “together some of the world’s leading minds to discuss the big issues facing businesses today.” And what’s most interesting about the idea of convening a high-level conversation around issues of long-range significance is precisely the fact that this is not a new concept. Just the opposite: Thedescription smacks of a certain class of business elite, and uses the ‘thought leadership’ language of big consulting firms.

Yet why would Google, already a top company by any measure, need to go through the exercise of branding itself in this vein? Isn’t it already part of the top circle?

Well, yes and no. In some ways, like most of its peers in the tech set, it took its leadership position by savvy rather than experience. It’s nouveau elite. It outsmarted, outperformed and out-innovated. It had the market cornered on the words ‘hip’ and ‘fresh’.

And yet as new start-ups spring to life every nanosecond, Google is becoming less of the It Kid and more of a Cool Uncle Internet. It still has that youthful spirit; but when it’s time to dine, it takes its seat at the grown-ups table.

In a word, Google is maturing--whether it likes it or not. The company already sees itself losing more and more talent to the likes of Facebook and other, still younger, tech homes. At the end of last year, Google gave all staffers across the organization 10 percent raises (a move in part, it seemed, to slow the trickle of staff heading elsewhere).

The company is likely smart to embrace rather than fight this image shift that’s been taking place. The re-installment of Larry Page as CEO in April looks at first glance like a move to rekindle some of Google’s start-up mojo. But the company is entering a new phase, one where it begins to sell the idea that innovation and maturity can coexist--that the company is in fact even more innovative than its younger counterparts because it has the wisdom to see long-term trends, lifting its head above the fray to survey the horizon. And a corporate magazine, with a fresh design and the gravitas of thought-leadership content, is as good a place as any to start the rebranding.

Lillian Cunningham  | Mar 25, 2011 12:11 PM

 
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