Why can't the billionaire genius CEO of Google tell us what his company does?

So Larry Page is a genius, right? He’s one of the inventors of Google, the search engine, the empire, the massive complex of algorithms and electrons that makes sense of the greatest collection of knowledge the world has ever know.

And he’s a billionaire. And CEO of Google.

So you might think he has a clue what his company does. And you might further think that he could explain it to people with much smaller brains than his.

You’d think wrong.

In the BusinessWeek story today on Google and Page, talking about his first year as CEO, they ask him a simple question: Google was once incontrovertibly a search company. But what is Google today?

The reply?

I think you have—I mean, what does it really mean to be a search company? I mean, even at that time, I think at that time and now, basically our soul is the same. I think what we’re about is we’re about using large-scale kind of technology: technology advancements to help people, to make people’s lives better, to make community better. Obviously, our mission was organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful, and I think we probably missed more of the people part of that than we should have.


First he’s answering a question with a question … a sure sign of confusion or prevarication (that’s fancy for lying). Then he says something confusing about “at that time” and “now” like “our soul is the same.”

But it gets worse. In the middle chunk, Page talks about “using large-scale technology” to “make people’s lives better.”


So Google now makes refrigerators? Medical equipment? Roads? Perhaps social housing? Wow. First confusion, then PR-speak about making people’s lives better.

It used to be simple – as Page finally gets to in the last chunk. Google used to be on a mission to organize the world’s information and make it accessible. That was understandable. It was a huge vision, and probably mostly unattainable, but most of us can agree they’ve achieved – are achieving – a huge chunk of that.

The prevarication or, more charitably, confusion, comes in when Google realizes that it is a big organism and big organisms tend to do and to want things that make them bigger, better, and more successful. The original mission is fine, organizations rationalize, but “no margin, no mission.” In other words, they start to get focused more on what is good for them, and less on what the great high noble goal that they originally espoused.

Nothing necessarily wrong with that. Companies have the right – within legal bounds – to try to grow.

But please, let’s be honest about it.

Or get Motorola to create a pacemaker that answers your email for you.