Inside Google Zeitgeist: Google's Annual Partner Summit

By Matt Spiegel, CEO
Appeared in Search Engine Watch

Google Zeitgeist is not your typical partner summit. Advertising? Doesn't really make the agenda until day two. Search? Not a dedicated topic at all. Instead, in inimitable Google style, last week's Zeitgeist featured a two-day feast of brain food on topics ranging from world hunger and environmental protection to the shortage of digital marketing talent.

The Three C's: Collaborate, Connect, Capture the Zeitgeist

Capturing the Zeitgeist: Captains of industry and heads of state in attendance included President Clinton (via satellite link); former Vice President Al Gore; Cisco CEO John Chambers; Tom Brokaw of NBC News; and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Google's theme, Collaborate and Connect, was reflected in the caliber of speakers, diversity of topics, and format of the conference. In no particular order, here are some of the most interesting moments and key insights from the Google partner summit.

Most Interesting Question

The surprising: "Wouldn't you be happier if the Internet didn't exist?" was asked by Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future, and answered by Jim Stengel, CMO of P&G and Dawn Hudson, president/CEO of PepsiCo NA. You'll be happy to note neither said yes. Indeed, both credited the Internet with speeding innovation and creativity.

The Fourth and Fifth C's: Command and Control

John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, discussed the challenge of changing an organization from "command and control" to one of collaboration and decentralization. Within a few short minutes it became clear why he's viewed as one of the best CEOs in business. His ability to change the culture of Cisco to an organization that brings together multiple disciplines and multiple levels of seniority to find a solution is impressive and a true model of success to follow.

Best and Worst

Best and worst speaking slot: Susan Desmond-Hellmann M.D., M.P.H., president of product development, Genentech, was brave and lucky. Susan's spoke between President Clinton and former Vice President Gore.

Jimmy Whales On Google

Most compelling quotes (part one): There was a tie in this category. First up is Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia: "Google is not in the search business." His comments no doubt sparked a bit of controversy for Googlers. Wales made some interesting points about Google's focus on advertising platforms and technology development. On the other hand, Google owns the search market in the U.S. (and plenty of other countries, too).

Warning: For Mature Audiences Only

Most compelling quotes (part two): Up next is Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia: "If you're an a**hole on the way up, you're still an a**hole on the way down." This fabulous line from Chouinard came while describing rich business executives weighed down with all the trappings of luxury (including guides who carry their gear and pre-mark their trails) when they scale Mount Everest.

Not People's (or Banana) Republic

There was a great discussion on marketing authentic brands (this session sparked the most interesting question mentioned above). What's clear: the best brands have always tried to be authentic. The Internet allows no choice but authenticity. Since consumers can join the conversation, marketers need a message that fulfills the promise of their products and services. If branded products and services don't fulfill the advertised promise, consumers will let the rest of the world know. The marketer may or may not be the last to know.

Zen of Time Warner

Dick Parsons, CEO of Time Warner, had many intriguing things to say about the changes he's overseeing. He noted he's a professional executive who's passionate about business, as opposed to a cable entrepreneur who's passionate about the success of cable. That perspective fosters a level of calm in his work. He highlighted how his poise helps him navigate the many challenges in the ever-changing media business.

I Am (John) Legend, Google Diggs Tay, The Grateful (Un)Dead

Amid the memorable moments of illumination and insight were unforgettable performances: one by a Legend, (John Stephens); a live performance of "Chocolate Rain" from GoogTube phenom Tay Zonday, and an amusing, meandering question from Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead.

Did I mention Google Zeitgeist isn't your typical partner summit?


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