There’s a famous B.B. King blues tune called “The Thrill Is Gone.” I was recently on the phone with a Google employee (director level) who was expressing that very sentiment about his experience there. I was surprised to hear that from this particular individual. However, Google has seen some high profile departures and, dare I say it, “defections” to Facebook.
Now Fortune takes a long look at Google in what might be called “Act 2.” Where does Google Go Next? interviews former Google employees and examines the state of all things Google, amid some indications that the company’s ability to continue unimpeded growth and maintain the excitement of its culture are under pressure.
Google was a media darling on the way up. Now, the skeptical tone of the Fortune piece is becoming more typical of coverage as the company matures. “How can it possibly keep this up?” is the not-so-subtextual message of the article.
Microsoft and Yahoo have seen their share of departures and spawned their share of startups from the ranks of former employees. But the incredulity of the Fortune article is based on the formerly pervasive media view that Google could defy the laws of corporate physics. Google’s incredible growth created expectations that it wasn’t an ordinary company. But, generally speaking, it is and people are now coming to terms with that.
Google’s challenge is to maintain employee excitement, and innovation is a very large organization that is inevitably more bureaucratic today than it was in 2004. It can be done, but it’s much harder than running a startup.