A few weeks ago, I had a bit of time on my hands, so I decided to conduct a little experiment. I went on Google to search for “other search engines besides Google.” A list popped up, and I began conducting the little experiment that had taken shape in my mind.
I visited about 15 search engines and typed in the same query: my full name — Oluwole Onemola — to see which results appeared first. As I had anticipated while formulating this random yet intriguing experiment, almost every search engine presented unique rankings for the same query.
On certain search engines, like Baidu, which holds a 65% market share in China, I didn’t even exist. On some, like Brave Search — which blocks trackers and ads, the first results that I got were from websites that I would not ordinarily have expected to rank so high. This got me thinking about three things: what we prioritise, the dangers of limiting our perspective, and the decision-making in leadership.
For as long as I can remember, Google has served as both a noun and a verb. Phrases like “Let me Google it!” and “Did you Google that?” have seamlessly integrated into our daily conversations. From Google Maps to Gmail, our lives have become increasingly intertwined, surrounded, and perhaps even “controlled” by Google.
I use the term “controlled” with great respect and appreciation for the efficiency that Google provides. Nevertheless, in the absence of a more fitting word, I say “controlled” because we have come to believe that if something appears on Google, it automatically carries significance.
However, we often overlook the fact that significance is subjective, influenced by perspective, interests, and personal inclinations. “Perspective” in this case refers to the weight the Google algorithm assigns to factors such as my location, search history, and the relevance of the search to someone matching my profile. “Interests” pertains to both what sparks my curiosity and the question of “What’s in it for me?” And “inclination” means, “Are the past websites that I visited a predictor of the future websites that I am likely to visit?”
Amidst all this, I began to question whether all the knowledge I required was truly available at my fingertips, or whether I simply had the knowledge that Google deemed necessary for me to know.
This ultimately led me to questions about the decision-making process in leadership. Are the debates and discussions that precede each important decision similar to Google’s careful tailoring of my past preferences? Or are they more like searching the same topic across multiple search engines — and getting similar results, but with different rankings?
If the decision-making process is like Google, it brings to mind the famous Noam Chomsky quote: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow a very lively debate within that spectrum.”
Alternatively, if it is anything like the results of my experiment, it reminds me of my favourite quote from Donald Rumsfeld:
“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
To be honest, in all of this, there are no right answers. I just wanted us to think about the process.
I rest my case.