Question 37 of 365: What should you do if Google decides to compete directly?

Google competes with our jobs. We are only kidding ourselves if we believe otherwise. All of the knowledge that was known as expertise and was highly valued in a different time is now just a click away from any employee. Google directly competes with our textbooks, our reference books, and our news to a great degree. It competes with teachers for their knowledge, programmers for their ability to create applications, and journalists for their ability to report widely. They have the competitive edge in all of those spaces simply because they get rid of all of the friction. The search bar gets beats a scope and sequence of curriculum, an API beats a proprietary software program, and online syndication beats increasingly lower paid circulation.

Yet, most of us do not see Google as directly competing with our interests. We use Google, and many of us love Google. We filter everything through our Gmail accounts. We use Google Docs to edit and store our important information and presentations. We plan out all of our daily events in a calendar that reaches farther than a daily planner ever could.

We see them as an incredibly useful and “non-evil” company. How is it that we are so comfortable to outsource large portions of our jobs to a service that we continue to find endearing?

I continue to come back to the example of how teaching and learning has changed in the era of Google. Before Google indexed the world’s information, teachers, the library (including the encyclopedia), and other expert “people” were one of the only ways in which to get the knowledge required to earn the grade you wanted. There was no self-paced inquiry driven model for figuring out the dates of when something happened or the cause and effect of a war (without huge dependence on the teacher, books, and experts that is). Teachers occupied classrooms the same as they do now, but they were relied on for the information in a way that can’t be said of today’s teacher.

That means that fundamentally, teaching is different now. It has to be. When Google went head to head with teachers on the basis of their wide breadth of knowledge, Google won. So, they forced teachers to shift their focus to the activity and experience of learning rather than the “stuff” of learning. While this may not be universally true, students come to class with devices in their pockets capable of relaying all of the content for a given class. The teacher must respect that, and find a different place to compete for the attention of students. They must find a new “market” that Google can’t yet compete with.

Authors, Journalists, Programmers, and any other specialization that Google has put in their sites must do the same. In fact, we must all find markets that Google cannot penetrate if we want to stay employed. The average worker cannot be an information expert, rather she must be an integration expert. She must be able to take the information that Google spits out at her and make sense of it, integrating it into the systems that currently exist in her company. The folks in IT that used to be in charge of setting up calendar, mail and disk images to be maintained and upgraded must find another way to occupy their time. They have to find a way to take what Google can offer and train with it, implement it better, or build on top of it. Even the person that makes things must be able to iterate faster upon the product line because of how easy it is to produce rapid prototypes and harness the power of the crowd to distribute the manufacturing process.

I had a conversation with Ashton recently, my co-founder of Open Spokes, discussing what would happen if Google moved into our space before we were really ready to launch. We talked about how scary that proposition was. However, I realize now that it is only scary if you are so attached to the idea of what it is that you are “selling” that you can’t find a new space to be in. While direct competition with Google can be done, that isn’t really the point. If Google has decided to develop something that competes with your “product”, you must realize that your “product” as you have defined it isn’t your core business. Just as with teaching, the core business of schools isn’t the information, it is the learning itself. When Google moved into the news space, newspapers needed to realize that information can’t be their core business anymore. Their core business must be about the process of connecting individuals with the information and people that are most important to them. If news is to survive, it has to focus on the conversation as much as the content.

So, what should you do when Google comes for you? Pivot and believe in yourself enough to know that your “core business” can never be outsourced. As a person and as a contributor, you will always have value so long as you never stop working toward finding a space where relationships are the focus and not information. I still believe that relationships and the structures we build around them is one thing that Google will never be able to index.

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