An example is found in a recent TechCrunch piece on Google. Headlined "Google's Six-Front War," it focuses on the areas of business where Google is now concentrating its energy under co-founder (and now CEO) Larry Page.
VC Ben Horowitz started this nonsensical meme, calling Page a "war time CEO" in contrast to the "peace time" leadership of predecessor Eric Schmidt.
There are two things that are true here. First, Page is paring down the company's development focus. Second, he's focusing the company's energy on areas where it is in direct competition with other big companies. Microsoft in browsers, Apple in mobile, Facebook in social networking, etc.
This is natural. This is good. Page is wasting fewer development hours, he's aiming to monetize his infrastructure advantages in various ways, he's working to compete.
The real enemy here is the FTC, or rather the government's regulatory priorities. The FTC has launched an anti-trust investigation against Google based on the idea that it favors its own services in search results. That would be fine with Bing or Ask.com, which have miniscule market shares. But it's considered unfair for the dominant player, and there's little doubt that, in search, Google is the dominant player. The company has lobbied-up to defend not only against the U.S. agency, but against state and European counterparts.
But Page is smart enough to know that the best way to fight the FTC isn't in the courts, or the court of public opinion. It's to focus on other areas of competition, where it can't be threatened with monopolistic practices because it's not yet dominant. That's the case in browsers, in mobile, in social. So long as Google's practices in search hold up to scrutiny, or it can negotiate a settlement that doesn't hamper its search efforts in the long-term, Google is going to get through this fine.
Of course, the U.S. government shouldn't really be investigating Google at all, in my view. Google has gone from a standing start in 1998 to having the best Internet infrastructure in the business, by far. This, not search and not advertising, is its secret source. This is what allows Google to compete aggressively in these other areas.
The companies the U.S. should be investigating are Verizon and AT&T. How was Google able to overcome these two companies while billions of taxpayer dollars were pouring into the two phone giants? Where did the money go? Another few billion dollars is being wasted through the stimulus as these two companies continue to abandon rural customers. Having taken hundreds of billions to invest in networks, Verizon simply sold its Vermont networks to an outfit that went belly-up. (One reason — it spent big bucks on a Muppet mascot (right) instead of on its network.)
Rural areas can get service through a combination of WiMax and fiber. The government has insisted that it has to come from copper wires. And now this government is going after Google, which has never taken its money and which gained its advantages in infrastructure quite legally, while ignoring AT&T and Verizon because they have a huge lobbying presence, in Washington, in the state legislatures, and everywhere else.
If Page were a "war time CEO" and not a focused competitor he'd see the opportunity there. Deliver broadband to a place the phone companies have abandoned, trumpet that success, and suggest that regulators go after the regulated, not the unregulated.
But Page isn't that kind of CEO. He's treating himself as a big competitor and working against other big competitors. That's peace, not war. Going after the real enemy — that would be war.