Written by Ivy Kolpon
Edited by Gregory Bartolomei and Daniel Kilkelly
The well-known search engine, Google, started out as an outlet to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Currently, Google also offers software such as Gmail email service, Google Docs office suite, Google+ social networking service, Google Chrome web browser, Picasa photo organizing and editing software, Google Talk instant messaging application, and Android mobile operating system. Most of these applications probably sound familiar.
An elevator going to outer space sounds absurd and Google agrees. Engineers have yet to discover anything remotely close to this concept. Their ideas are far-fetched and seem unrealistic. However, Google X is no doubt ahead of the rest of the world. Their secret facility has a list of at least one hundred items that use future, undiscovered technologies. Due to the unrealistic and imaginary concepts developed at Google X, Google admits that they only administer a small amount of resources to the division. They are practicing product diversification, one of the three ways a firm can compete. Google X serves as an example to show business how to act in order to stay in business. For example, if Kodak had been more like Google, they may have realized sooner that photography was changing quickly from using film to a digital format. While Kodak may have been aware of the changing fad, they underestimated the “staying power” of digital photography. However, poor business management may receive blame for the failure due to poor predictions and a missed opportunity. They thought digital pictures were a fad and never tried to capture the market. Evidently, Kodak’s slow response to the change caused them a great loss that they are still trying to recover from.
While Google X remains secretive and intrigues the interest of those who find out about the department, they are not the first company to create such a “think tank.” One notable company, PARC has been responsible for notable developments including laser printing, Ethernet, the modern personal computer, and the graphical user interface, among others. Apple’s Macintosh computer was greatly influenced by the developments of PARC’s graphical user interface. Surprisingly, PARC was a division of Xerox starting in 1969. Many people may only be familiar with Xerox as a company that succeeded long before computer, e-mail, scanning, and mobile phone existed. However, Xerox holds the responsibility for the creations listed above. For three decades, PARC remained affiliated with Xerox until it was transformed into an independent company in 2002 dedicated to developing and maturing advances in science and business concepts. While Xerox remains the company’s largest customer, PARC has developed its own client-base including Samsung and Fugitsu.
Other firms that should have been researching future technologies include Smith Corona, U.S. Postal Service, and Western Union. Some of these companies may sound unfamiliar because they either no longer exist or are used infrequently such as Smith Corona and Western Union. Smith Corona sold typewriters in the late 1800s up until the early 1990s. Typewriters were very popular before the introduction of personal computers around 1970. Smith Corona went bankrupt in 1995 due to falling financial figures. Had Smith Corona developed something similar to the personal computer, Microsoft and Apple may have seen fierce competition today. Western Union is a communication company largely known for their telegraph industry. In the 19th century, they were widely recognized as the first communications empire. Although, they still exist in society today, they are nowhere near as large as they were two centuries ago due to the growth of e-mail, mobile phone, and social media communications. Although the U.S. Postal Service is still prevalent today, the likelihood of their existence in the future is uncertain. Rumors are circulating about removing Saturday mail service. Additionally, the existing internet barely makes mail necessary since almost everything can be viewed via online or e-mail. Many people believe our mail service would be more effective if the federal government was not in charge of every post office in the nation. In other countries, a very small percentage of post offices are run by the government. The majority of post offices are run by other businesses who also offer banking services. Whether this system would work in the United States is a job for a “think tank” department (that currently does not exist within the USPS).
Google’s secret branch, Google X, is no doubt an innovator. However, there is no proof that any of their ideas will become realities or that their innovations will be demanded or successful. Proper leadership is imperative. Kodak may have been successful if their leaders had been able to recognize current and future trends. They were aware of the changing trends, but did not act accordingly. Although, some of the Google’s ideas seem ridiculous now, it is important for companies to think about the future. PARC certainly proved to be a useful investment for Xerox. Although the department is important, Google is smart not to devote too many resources to Google X. In thinking about future technologies, it is still important for companies not to lose sight of their current customers. The majority of a company’s resources should be used to fill current demands and obligations. To avoid becoming obsolete like Western Union, U.S. Postal Service, and Smith Corona, companies ought to create a division with good leaders similar to PARC and Google X and start dreaming up their futures!
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