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What can mechanics community learn from the success of Google?

Teng Li's picture

A cartoon in The New Yorker magazine shows a boy asking his dad a question. The dad, reading a book, replies, “Go ask your search engine.” The cartoon was published in Feb. 2000, three months before Google officially became the world's largest search engine with its introduction of a billion-page index — the first time so much of the web's content was made searchable. If the boy asks again today, his dad will say, “Go ask Google.”

At $6 billion a year in revenue and $7.6 billion in cash, Google is a success. What’s more important to the rest of us, Google is running its business in a way that may change the world. Through its never-about-average products (i.e., Google search, Google Earth (and Mars too), Google Map, and more recently, Writely), Google is radically redefining the ways we obtain, organize, use, store, and share information.

So what’s Google’s secret to success? Quentin Hardy, of Forbes, interviewed Google CEO, Eric Schmidt and several VPs for answers. Here are excerpts from Hardy’s article:

  • “The mission overall: to collect ‘all the world's information’ and make it accessible to everyone."
  • “One true god rules at Google: data. The more you collect, the more you know and the more certain your decisions can be."
  • “…this company loves to talk it out, jettison hierarchy, business silos and layers of management for a flatter, ‘networked’ structure where the guy with the best data wins.”
  • “It shares all the information it can with as many employees as possible, encouraging debate but insisting on like-minded cooperation.”
  • “Tackles most big projects in small, tightly focused teams.”

In a recent entry in Applied Mechanics News, Zhigang Suo brought up the possibility of Internet-Based Mechanics (or iMech). Here I’d like to ask, what can our mechanics community learn from the secrets of Google’s success?

The information world Google is dealing with is, of course, many scales larger than the knowledge we mechanicians possess. The subject of mechanics, as part of the information world, however, shares many self-similarities with its matrix, such as

  • “…accumulated over millennia has remarkable depth and richness. This large quantity of knowledge has made it hard for any individual to master (and to add to) the subject.” as described in Suo’s post.
  • the knowledge in different disciplines of mechanics are largely scattered, instead of networked.
  • an effective platform to exchange knowledge and stimulate interactions among mechanicians is desired.

The Internet provides powerful tools to enable everyone’s knowledge and ideas accessible to the world, easily and at almost no cost. We mechanicians should also take advantage of the Internet, sharing the knowledge of mechanics, interacting among mechanicians, and broadening the reach of mechanics. For example:

We can also learn from another secret of Google’s success: Every Google employee starts the week writing five lines on what he or she did the week before. They are posted on an internal website for all to see. New product ideas circulate among thousands of engineers (comparable in number with the mechanicians in our community!) on an "ideas mailing list."

Since these engineers at Google may change the world by exchanging ideas on weekly basis, we mechanicians may revitalize our community if everyone makes a contribution to the Internet-Based Mechanics (or iMech) project on a monthly basis. Not hard at all, right? It’s our community, let’s just do it.

My daughter is now at her curious-about-everything age. Why can she blow out bubbles from soap water but not from tap water? Why can Curious George ride his bicycle with just rear wheel on ground? You can imagine my difficulty in rephrasing surface tension and gyroscope effects in kid's language. I hope, if she raises similar questions in several years, I can just tell her, "Go ask iMech."

Comments

Zhigang Suo's picture

An article in today's Wall Street Journal talks about how Microsoft missed early signs of the Internet power, and allowed new comers like Google to prevail in this space. Perhaps this is a large lesson: we should not be blinded by our traditional strengths, and ignore a huge but less familiar opportunity right in front of us.

Like companies, different technical fields compete for resources and talents. It is up to mechanicians of our generation to seize the new opportunity of the Internet and take mechanics to a new level.

We will recruit talents in other fields to do mechanics. We will make mechanics and mechanicians household words (properly understood), at least among educated people.

We need a game plan for Mechanics 2.0. 

Teng Li's picture

The Wall Street Journal article reminded me eBay's failure in Japan market. Its almost-sweeping success aside, eBay quited its business in Japan in 2002. The critical reason of its failure in Japan was eBay's late action getting into Japan ONLY 3 months behind Yahoo Japan. 3 month did make a radical difference in market share in online auction business.

While the evolution of academia is often not as fast as business world, we do see the migration of research focus from area to area over the years, and the decay of those research fields out of general focus. As for Mechanics, while more and more mechanicians explore into new arenas and bring new energy into mechanics, this rich discipline of long history is now hardly at the center of the focus as it did many many years ago. Here I'd like to raise a question to our fellow mechanicians:

What are the potential crises for Mechanics if we miss the huge opportunity that many others are taking advantages from?

Maybe by answering this question, we can be more clear why we should seize the new opportunity, and draw attentions from more and more mechanicians. The future of Mechanics largely relies on more and more mechanician players in this game.

Your comments are cordially welcome.

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