The firm has outgrown its uninhibited corporate culture. It is time to learn from its elders
长大了的谷歌不能再沿用它放纵不羁的企业文化。是时候向前辈们学习了

【双语】应对中年危机 How to cope with middle age-书迷号 shumihao.com

IT MAY BE just 21 years old, but Google is in the midst of a mid-life crisis. As so often in such cases, all seems well on the surface. Every day its search engine handles 6bn requests, YouTube receives 49 years’ worth of video uploads and Gmail processes about 100bn emails. Thanks to its dominance of online advertising, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, made a profit of $34bn last year. Beyond its core operations, it is a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing and self-driving cars. Along with the bosses of Amazon, Apple and Facebook, its chief executive, Sundar Pichai, was grilled in late July by lawmakers in Washington, DC, who fret that America’s tech giants need to be restrained because they are so profitable. Crisis? What crisis?

眼下的谷歌或许才21岁,却已迎来了中年危机。与这类危机中常见的一样,表面看来一切都好。每天,谷歌的搜索引擎要响应60亿次请求,上传到YouTube的视频总共可以播放49年,Gmail要处理大约1000亿封电子邮件。凭借在线上广告业务中的统治地位,谷歌的母公司Alphabet去年实现了340亿美元的利润。除了其核心业务,谷歌还是人工智能(AI)、量子计算和无人驾驶等领域的全球领军者。7月底,谷歌CEO桑达尔·皮查伊(Sundar Pichai)和亚马逊、苹果及Facebook的老板们一起,接受了华盛顿的国会议员们的质询,因为议员们担心美国科技巨头的利润过于丰厚而需要加以限制。中年危机?哪有什么危机?

Being hauled before Congress is, on the face of it, a sign of success. But it also marks a difficult moment for Google’s leaders: the onset of corporate middle age. This is a problem as old as business itself. How do companies sustain the creativity and agility that made them great, even as they forge a culture and corporate machine that is built to last? For Google the transition is especially dramatic because its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, tried from the start to build a firm in which this moment would never arrive. As Google prepared to go public in 2004 they declared that it was not a conventional company, and “we do not intend to become one”. They hoped playground-like offices, generous perks and a campus atmosphere would allow it to retain the agility and innovation of a startup as it grew. The appearance of wrinkles on the corporate forehead is an admission of failure.

表面上看,被国会质询是企业成功的体现。但对谷歌的领导层来说,它同样标志着一个艰难时刻的到来:公司开始步入中年。这个问题和商业活动本身一样历史悠久。公司如何在打造一种经久不衰的文化和企业机制的同时,保持曾让自己发家兴业的创造力和敏捷性?对谷歌来说,这种转变尤其引人瞩目,因为其创始人拉里·佩奇(Larry Page)和谢尔盖·布林(Sergey Brin)从一开始就试图打造一家永远不会迎来这一时刻的公司。2004年谷歌准备上市时,他们宣称谷歌不是一家传统公司,而且“我们也不打算让它成为这样的公司”。他们希望游乐场式的办公区、优厚的福利待遇和校园般的氛围能让谷歌在成长过程中保持自己还是创业公司时的那种敏捷度和创新力。但它额头上出现的皱纹表明这未能成功。

The signs of ageing are apparent in Google’s maturing business, its changing culture and its ever-more-entwined relationship with government. Take the business first. The firm is running up against growth constraints in its near-monopolies of search and online-advertising tools. Its market share in search ads is around 90%. Unearthing other gold mines has proved difficult. None of the ambitious “moonshot” projects into which Alphabet has poured billions, such as delivery drones and robots, has been a breakout success. To keep growing, Google is having to try to muscle in on the turf occupied by big tech rivals, such as cloud computing and enterprise software and services.

谷歌的衰老正从几个方面显现出来:趋于成熟的业务、演变的企业文化,以及和政府的关系日益纠缠。先说业务。在被它近乎垄断的搜索和在线广告工具领域,谷歌的扩张开始触顶。它在搜索广告市场所占份额已达到90%左右。而到别处掘金的历程并不顺利。Alphabet已为雄心勃勃的“登月”项目投入了数十亿美元,包括送货无人机和机器人,但无一取得突破性成就。为保持增长,谷歌不得不费力挤进已被其他大型科技竞争对手占领的地盘,比如云计算、企业软件和服务等。

The cultural challenge is fuzzier but no less urgent for a firm that is proud of its unusual corporate character. The freewheeling ethos that was so successful in Google’s early days has become a liability. It works much less well at scale. Google now has nearly 120,000 employees, and even more temporary contractors. Doing things from the bottom up has become harder as the workforce has grown larger and less like-minded, with squabbles breaking out over everything from gender politics and the serving of meat in cafeterias to Google’s sale of technology to police forces.

对于谷歌这样一家以独特的企业性格为荣的公司来说,文化上的挑战虽没有那么明显,却同样紧迫。谷歌自由自在的气质在早期极为成功,如今却成了一种包袱。公司规模变大后这种气质的好处大打折扣。谷歌目前有近12万名员工,合同工的数量甚至更多。随着员工人数的增加,这个群体的观念也更多元,围绕性别政治、餐厅肉食供应、公司向警方出售技术等各种问题的争吵声不绝于耳,想要自下而上做成一件事情变得更加困难。

The third sign of lost youth, the attention of trustbusters, has long looked inevitable. As big tech has grown, so have its interactions with government—as an institution to lobby, as a customer and as a regulator. America’s Justice Department is poring over Google’s online-ads businesses and may soon file an antitrust suit. Scrutiny is unlikely to wane as the tech titans break out of their silos and compete more. Indeed, regulators may take it as a sign of broadening power.

被反垄断机构盯上是青春流逝的第三个迹象,而这在很久以前似乎就已不可避免。大型科技公司与政府的关系随着公司的发展而发展——政府是它的游说对象、客户,也是监管者。美国司法部正在审查谷歌的在线广告业务,可能很快就会提出反垄断诉讼。随着科技巨头们走出各自的传统领地,展开更多竞争,它们受到的审查不太可能减少。事实上,监管机构可能会把它们的扩展看成是扩大势力范围的表现。

How should Google respond? To be both innovative and mature is a hard trick to pull off. History is littered with failed attempts. In giving it a go, the firm has to decide who it puts its faith in: managers, investors or geeks?

谷歌该如何回应?既有创新精神又要成熟稳重是很难做到的。历史上失败的例子比比皆是。想试着做到两者兼具,谷歌就必须决定寄希望于谁:管理层、投资者,还是极客?

The first route would involve taking a strong dose of managerial medicine to become a more tightly run conglomerate. The archetype for this approach is GE in its heyday under Jack Welch, who persuaded shareholders that sprawling businesses could work well, provided they were run by expert managers. But it turned out that GE was disguising weaknesses in its industrial units by leaning on its financial arm, GE Capital. GE’s subsequent woes offer a warning of the peril of relying on one hugely successful division to subsidise less profitable units elsewhere—as Google does with its advertising business.

第一种解决方法是给它服用一剂管理上的强效药,让它成为管理更严格的企业集团。这种方法的原型是杰克·韦尔奇(Jack Welch)领导下的全盛时期的GE。韦尔奇让股东们相信,假如那些庞杂的业务由职业经理人来管理,就能很好地运作。但结果证明,GE是在依赖其金融部门GE资本(GE Capital)掩盖工业部门的劣势。GE后来的困境提醒人们,指望一个极为成功的部门来补贴其他盈利能力较弱的部门是很危险的——谷歌对广告业务的依赖也一样。

If doubling down on the conglomerate model is not the answer, what about the opposite approach: spinning off, selling or closing some units and returning money to shareholders? That would please many investors. By some calculations, Alphabet is worth $100bn less than the sum of its parts. Spinning off YouTube would increase competition in internet advertising—a handy sop to regulators—as well as unlocking value. It might be worth more than Netflix, because it need not pay for content, most of which is user-generated. But the experiences of firms like AT&T and IBM highlight the danger that downsizing hollows out innovation. And while Google might hope to retain its distinctive culture in whittled-down form, the truth is that no matter how much it wants to be as youthful and free-spirited as Peter Pan, it is no longer a startup.

如果大力实施企业集团模式不能解决问题,那么采取相反的方法——拆分、出售或关闭部分业务,然后将资金返还给股东,又会怎样呢?这会取悦很多投资者。按照一些估计,Alphabet的市值比拆分后的总价值少1000亿美元。把YouTube拆分出去会加大互联网广告业的竞争——这能讨得监管机构的欢心——也会释放其价值。YouTube的价值可能会高于奈飞(Netflix),因为它的大部分内容是用户生成的,不用为它们付费。但AT&T和IBM等公司的经历清楚地表明,缩小规模有掏空创新的危险。虽然谷歌可能希望以瘦身的方式保留自己独特的文化,但事实是,无论它多么希望自己像彼得·潘一样青春永驻、自由自在,它都已经不再是一家创业公司了。

That leaves trusting the geeks. Becoming a glorified venture-capital outfit has appeal, but the woes of SoftBank’s Vision Fund warn of hubris. Google would do better to examine how two older tech giants overcame their own mid-life crises (and near-death experiences): Microsoft, nearly broken up by antitrust regulators, and Apple, which spent years in the wilderness before Steve Jobs returned to reinvent it as a maker of portable devices. Both bounced back by rediscovering their core purpose and applying it in a new way. Under Satya Nadella, Microsoft has reinvented itself as a provider of cloud-based software tools and services, rather than its Windows operating system. And Apple, previously known for its elegant, easy-to-use computers, has minted money by applying its genius to smartphones.

那就只剩下信赖极客了。成为一家风光的风险投资机构有其吸引力,但软银愿景基金的遭遇警示了狂妄自大的危险。谷歌最好还是看看两家科技巨头前辈是如何化解各自的中年危机甚至起死回生的:微软差点被反垄断机构拆分;苹果沉寂多年,直到史蒂夫·乔布斯回归并将它重塑为便携设备制造商。它们都是重新发现了自己的核心目标,并采取新的方法实施目标,才得以重整旗鼓。在萨提亚·纳德拉(Satya Nadella)的领导下,微软转型成为云软件工具和服务供应商,而不仅仅提供Windows操作系统。而之前就以简洁易用的电脑著称的苹果则将才能运用到智能手机上,开始大赚特赚。

Could Google similarly identify what it does best and apply it in new areas? It could decide its mission is helping consumers trade their personal data for goods and services; or using AI to solve more of the world’s problems; or being the data processor of net-enabled gadgets. At the moment it is betting on almost everything. Indiscipline can lead to unexpected innovations, but more often saps vitality. Google’s best way forward is to follow the advice often given to victims of a mid-life crisis: slim down, decide what matters and follow the dream. ■

谷歌是否也可以确定自己最擅长的是什么,并把它应用到新的领域?它可以决定自己的使命是帮助消费者用他们的个人数据换取商品和服务,还是运用AI解决世界上更多的问题,亦或是为各种基于网络的设备处理数据。目前它几乎方方面面都押注。不受约束会带来意想不到的创新,但更多时候却会渐渐削弱活力。谷歌最理想的前进之路是遵循那些陷入中年危机的人通常会得到的建议:瘦身,决定什么是重要的,并追随梦想。