Book Review – What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis

In 1995, Robert Spector wrote a book about a Northwest upscale department store chain that embraced the idea of customer service. Spector popularized the famous story of a customer returning a set of tires to a store and the associate happily accepting the return even though the chain didn’t sell tires. The Nordstrom Way was a defining title for the customer service trend of the 90’s. The bestselling business book used the teach-by-number format made popular by In Search of Excellence, but what Spector really did was use Nordstrom as a metaphor to remind companies how customers (and they themselves) want to be treated.

Jeff Jarvis does the same thing in his book What Would Google Do? He uses the Internet giant as a metaphor for what is to come and again what is so successful about this device is that we recognize instantly the point and how familiar it feels. The temptation with WWGD? is to think that Jarvis is describing some far-off future. He’s not. The foundation has already been laid and somehow we are waiting for everyone to catch up.

If I have already lost you, read the first 225 pages carefully. Networks and platforms are the new game. And it’s not mimics of the closed, monopolistic telcos and mass-media operations of the past. Open-source creation and abundance-based thinking feed a whole new set of platforms. Wikipedia, Facebook, and Twitter are the headliners of the next act. “Can I use your platform to build my own business?” says venture capitalist Fred Wilson when Jarvis brings a business associate to visit. “And before you answer, let me tell you, the right answer is ‘yes.'”

Transparency is part of this new game whose power source is everything being linkable, clickable, and searchable. Again, the digital native believes these actions to be inalienable rights alongside life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A moment of reflection on how one’s company lives up to these 21st century declarations is required. Go ahead. Take a moment.

Jarvis takes the final 100 pages to do thought experiments of what industries would look like if the terraforming nature of these forces come to pass. GoogleEats would provide menu with what was popular with prior customers and how much they turned out liking it. GT&T would provide ubiquitous service no matter where we were and if there was trouble they would use their own tools to help solve the problem (i.e. a Google Map for us to plot where we were having trouble). Imagine your Google Calendar tracking the tasks you had over the coming week suggested with best form of transport with pricing and schedules.

When executives asked me what book they should assign for their corporate retreats, my recommendation this year was What Would Google Do? The book is not about Google, but rather a new set of rules that changes what is possible.

One thought on “Book Review – What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis

  1. What Would Google Do? is not a book about Google. At least not directly. This is a manifesto for the social web. A book arguing for transparency, openness, and collaboration. A book imploring that we think differently; beseeching businesses to hand over control to their clients; to share and innovate; to develop platforms and networks of trust; to encourage discovery and diversity over secrecy and authority; to adopt a mindset of abundance over the scarcity models of the past. Google is positioned as the poster child of this new paradigm, the exemplar of the modern company. And the question, What Would Google Do?, is our call to action. A call challenging our assumptions of what is required to succeed in a world that is increasingly public and interconnected.

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