In addition, Google appears to have built up the kind of bureaucracy that stifles engineers and creative professionals. Douglas Bowman, visual design lead at Google, for example, left in 2009 when he found himself spending far too much time debating issues such as whether a border should be three, four or five inches. And he cites an instance in which a Google team had to spend its time user-testing 41 gradations of blue for the color of a Web page .
For many engineers, Facebook has become more attractive than Google as a place to work. And Google is seeing an outflow of those looking to start their own companies, because Google is no longer the entrepreneurial place it had once been.
Schmidt is at least partially responsible for all this, for the very reason he has been able to help build the company into the success it's become. A focus on the right business model and on efficiency tends to overlook potential markets and to build a rigid corporate structure.
All this is not to say that Google has been unable to be innovative and recognize new markets. Its astonishing success with Android shows that's not the case. So the company can't yet be said to be suffering from Microsoft syndrome.
But the top executives at Google were smart enough to recognize that the company was headed in that direction. By moving Schmidt aside and putting Larry Page, Google's co-founder, in charge, the company is returning to its roots. A creative engineer will once again be at the top of the company. Google's hope is that Page will be able to recognize new opportunities more quickly than Schmidt did, and help forestall any potential brain drain.
Of course, engineers aren't always the best CEOs. Still, Google was smart enough to recognize that it had begun to stagnate, and this move is a good first step toward ensuring that won't happen.
Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld.com and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).
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