Is Google a Model for the Future of Management?

Last Updated Aug 20, 2007 12:47 PM EDT

After just nine years of existence, Google boasts a market capitalization of $160 billion and is so ubiquitous it's become a common verb. But is this incredible success simply a matter of riding one big breakthrough or will the the company be able to continue to grow itself and adapt in a turbulent business environment? Is Google an example of the future of management or simply an amazingly good one-off?

A fascinating article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal lays out both sides of the argument as made by two experts. In his new book, "The Future of Management," consultant Gary Hamel argues that,

Google's innovations go beyond the fine points of search-engine algorithms -- extending into big, enduring aspects of general management. The... company is packed with intriguing, distinctive ways of running itself... These include radical decentralization; small, self-managing teams; a just-try-it approach to rolling out new products before they are fully finished; and a willingness to let engineers spend sizable chunks of time on offbeat projects.
On the opposing side is Harvard Business School Associate Professor, Thomas Eisenmann, who argues:
Google's biggest opportunities exist in huge markets such as desktop office applications, electronic commerce or "middleware" that could take the place of Microsoft Windows. Conquering such markets... will require old-fashioned leadership from the top and a disciplined hierarchy to carry out big tasks.
Both experts seem to have a point. Google's management style has allowed it to churn out a multitude of ingenious ideas (photo-file management, mapping, and news aggregation, for example) and if any one of these succeeds big, it is likely to be profitable enough to make up for many less successful experiments. On the other hand, as Larry Dignan points out on, "Google doesn't have the track record to claim much of anything regarding management practices." So far, it's all been boom times for the company. Dignan suggests instead that we "look to Cisco Systems as a company to study. Cisco rode the dot-com boom, lived through the collapse and is in a great position for the next phase of the Internet buildout."

BNET readers get in on the debate. Is Google a model for the future of management?

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.