Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Peanut Butter Manifesto

I will begin by simply reporting what my recent New Yorker recorded. The topic was whether Google was becoming too diffuse, spreading itself too thin. Ken Auletta drew on an apparently well-discussed 2006 memo from a Yahoo senior vice-president, which has become known as the Peanut Butter Manifesto. It reads:

We lack a focused, cohesive vision for our company. We want to do everything and be everything--to everyone.... I've heard our strategy described as spreading peanut butter across myriad opportunities that continue to evolve in the online world. The result: a thin layer of investment spread across everything we do and thus we focus on nothing in particular.
Now you know I'm going to ring some changes on saying yes and no here. If Yahoo specifically, and Silicon Valley generally, have found that saying too many yeses is a bad practice that leads to nothing and nowhere in particular, we might also have something to learn. Although I love peanut butter, it seems to me that the reason this memo became famous (or infamous) is that it resonates. In organizations trying to compete in a wildly diversified market, it's become increasingly clear that we have to do a few things well rather than a number of things badly.

I'm working on my class tonight, "Getting Closer to God through Simplicity," and this Peanut Butter Manifesto probably needs to be applied to our spiritual lives as well. We spread ourselves too thin, running around from one task to the next, and find little room for our spiritual Center. Or at least I too often do.... My task tonight is to remind us that, in order to renovate our lives--and now to change the metaphor--we have to "edit what we have," as the famous designer John Wheatman wrote. (That brown vinyl lamp may need to find its way to the Salvation Army before the living room remolded can start.) Once we make some room in our lives, we find that God has been there all along.

It's a good topic. Maybe I'll bring peanut butter and invite some Yahoo executives....


John said...

while one of my mantras is "simple, simple, simple", and i advise companies to do one thing, and do it well, i think google is beginning to suffer.

i would argue that "google spreading itself thin" is more perception than reality. sure, they have a whole bunch of stuff that represents less than 1% of their traffic. but in fact, i think they've become myopic about search. while i think search is only about 10% "solved" i think google is about 98% solved. how much better can google get at what it does?

google spends many resources on the most minute tweaks to its core search offering. granted, those tweaks can mean a lot of money due to google's scale, but at the same time, there is no "quantum" leap opportunity in those activities.

in the mean time, companies like vark are making significant grounds in entirely new approaches to search.

i would agree it is better to focus on simple, but you also have to be in dialog with the evolvoing ecosystem around you.

GCootsona said...

So remain simple, but be aware of what's around you?
I was primarily headed in the direction of our personal lives, and that's a reasonably good guideline for those of us who don't want to live in monastic seclusion.