In October 2014, Larry Page, then chief executive of Google, gave an interview with the Financial Times. He was asked whether Google needed a new mission statement, he said, “I think we do, probably”. What we didn’t know at the time was that the question over Google’s mission was part of a much wider debate that, 12 months later, resulted in the launch of Alphabet Inc.
From Larry Page’s perspective in 2014, Google’s mission statement, to “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, no longer represented the full picture of Google’s activities. With new ventures in emerging industries like biotech and robotics, Google had outgrown its mission. In 1998 when the statement was originally written, whilst being crazily ambitious, it had a clear purpose that everyone understood, but by 2014, at the time of the FT interview, it was under review. When asked by the FT what the new mission statement should be, Larry Page said, “We’re still trying to work that out.”
The process of ‘working it out’ didn’t result in a new mission statement as you might have expected, but instead in setting up a new parent company, Alphabet Inc. In doing so, Larry Page unshackled Google from all the non-adjacent ventures that had muddied the mission. The conclusion Page must have come to was that Google hadn’t outgrown it’s mission, but that it had been crowded out. In his letter announcing Alphabet to the world, Larry Page reaffirmed Google’s mission, saying “…we can continue to make big strides on our core mission to organise the world’s information.” Between the FT interview and Alphabet’s launch, Google’s 1998 mission statement was back.
What’s interesting about the interview in the FT is it marks a point of contemplation about Google’s purpose and mission. It reveals the debate Larry Page was having about Google’s future. From a brand point of view it’s also a great case study in mission statement management (if there is such a thing). Google didn’t opt to rewrite their mission statement and risk weakening it. Instead they restored meaning to the original mission that was clear in 1998, and continues to be ambitious today.