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Google CEO Larry Page on competition, regulation, and innovation

Larry Page

Google cofounder and CEO Larry Page hasn’t been talking much lately, probably because of his mysterious voice issues, but he sat with Wired recently to discuss everything from his company’s ambitions to the competition, a.k.a. Apple.

When asked why Google encourages its employees to “tackle ambitious challenges and make big bets,” Page said he worried that something has gone wrong with the way companies run these days.

“If you read the media coverage of our company, or of the technology industry in general, it’s always about the competition. The stories are written as if they are covering a sporting event,” Page added. “But it’s hard to find actual examples of really amazing things that happened solely due to competition. How exciting is it to come to work if the best you can do is trounce some other company that does roughly the same thing? That’s why most companies decay slowly over time. They tend to do approximately what they did before, with a few minor changes.”

Therefore, Page said his job is mostly trying get people focused on non-incremental things—like Gmail.

“When we released that, we were a search company—it was a leap for us to put out an email product, let alone one that gave users 100 times as much storage as they could get anywhere else,” he explained. “That is not something that would have happened naturally if we had been focusing on incremental improvements.”

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The conversation then moved to Google X, which is dedicated to off-the-wall projects like self-driving cars, but Page said its purpose is so breakthrough things could develop more independently. He further compared Google’s endeavors to Apple:

You know, we always have these debates: We have all this money, we have all these people, why aren’t we doing more stuff? You may say that Apple only does a very, very small number of things, and that’s working pretty well for them. But I find that unsatisfying. I feel like there are all these opportunities in the world to use technology to make people’s lives better. At Google we’re attacking maybe 0.1 percent of that space. And all the tech companies combined are only at like 1 percent. That means there’s 99 percent virgin territory. Investors always worry, “Oh, you guys are going to spend too much money on these crazy things.” But those are now the things they’re most excited about—YouTube, Chrome, Android. If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re doing the wrong things.

Speaking of Apple and Android, Wired went straight to the jugular and brought up Steve Jobs’ comment from 2011 about willing to “go to thermonuclear war” on Android. But, what was Page’s response?

How well is that working?” he simply said.

Oh, and as for the other competition, specifically Facebook, Page admitted it’s going strong in the social network space but also doing “a really bad job” on products. One of the other contentious points during the interview concerned regulators and their constant probes into Google and how the company operates.

“My guess is that talking to regulators is probably not your favorite thing to do,” Wired asked, but Page said he liked talking to everyone.

“That’s just the way I’m wired,” he added. “But I do think the Internet’s under much greater attack than it has been in the past. Governments are now afraid of the Internet because of the Middle East stuff, and so they’re a little more willing to listen to what I see as a lot of commercial interests that just want to make money by restricting people’s freedoms.”

Page noted, however, that regulators have also seen much user reaction, such as the public outpour against SOPA: “I think that governments fight users’ freedoms at their own peril,” he explained.

And finally, the Google executive made sure to address Motorola and the future. He described Motorola as running independently since the acquisition closed last summer, with Dennis Woodside now at the helm, and there’s still much room for innovation in regards to hardware.

“The phones we use now have glass that everyone worries will break if they drop the device,” Page said. “Five or 10 years from now, that will be different. There’s going to be a lot of change.

Check out Wired’s article for the full interview. 

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