Experience is great until it is used to apply old solutions to new problems. This bias, this failure to recognize new problems, is most common in technology companies as they grow older. And it is because of this bias that in Silicon Valley, the industry of the new, old people are less frequently successful. This is why, for example, Microsoft managed by Ballmer in his 50s performs worse than Google managed by Page in his 40s, and this is why Google is now threatened by Facebook, managed by Zuckerberg in his late 20s. I am sure that when Ballmer first saw Google he thought “another search engine” and when Page and Brin first saw Facebook they thought “another social network”. The real challenge, as we grow older is to use experience for our benefit without losing our ability to recognize the new. Without losing the ability of being experienced but occasionally feeling “inexperienced”. Because Google was certainly a new experience to those who were searching before it. Or Facebook was a new social experience for those who were familiar with previous social networks. But experienced leaders failed to see this. We can’t allow experience to betray us. Experience must be balanced with a childish fascination for the new, a fascination of the kind that kept Jobs young until his premature death. Steve Jobs did know how to combine experience, with an uncanny ability to recognize the new.
Yahoo is an amazing company, with tremendous products and enormous potential. But Yahoo has been poorly managed for years first by Terry Semel, an alien to the internet, and by Jerry Yang, who is a remarkable individual in many ways but as a returning CEO he is no Steve Jobs. Still Yahoo has half a billion unique users per month and outstanding products and services: Yahoo mail has more mail users than Gmail, Yahoo Messenger has more members than Google Talk, My Yahoo is the number one start up page in the world, Flickr is the best photo service and Yahoo has wonderful products in many niches. In my view, what Yahoo really needs is an amazing CEO who can change the perception that many people have of this great company. Here´s two people I know who I think could pull this off. One is Chad Hurley of Youtube and the other Niklas Zennstrom of Skype. If Yahoo managed to attract either one to run the company, I am convinced that they would in turn put together a remarkable management team around them and turn Yahoo around. Both have worked very well with partners in the past (Niklas and Janus, Chad and Steve) and these partnership seem to perform superbly on the internet, with Larry and Sergey being the leading one.
I would like to clarify that neither Chad nor Niklas have told me they would be interested in running Yahoo and they are both very busy and happy with their own projects. But I wanted to use them as an example of what Yahoo could try to do. A committed board could at least try to recruit them or the very few people of their caliber that exist in the world and built a new and great management team to run the company.