How we think

Is Google changing how we think? The jury is out, but the evidence is piling up. MICHEL HOGAN

Michel Hogan

By Michel Hogan

When hiring for my old company, one of the questions we asked was “what are the last five books you read and why?” More than just looking for a reading list, we were looking for diversity of interest, curiosity, but most of all perserverence. Being able to stick with something (in this case a book), was an important attribute.

But according to an article in The Atlantic called “Is Google making us stupid” a fundamental shift is happening to how we access and process information, a shift being driven by online search and skim behaviours that are making sticking with an entire book from beginning to end a quaint notion.

The article states: “As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation…”

Thought provoking stuff. And it’s not just a personal issue. In all aspects of business the answer to a question is often found via the first page of a Google search – from board rooms and issues of governance, to questions of what back office systems to use, and information on the latest marketing trends; just Google it!

When the answer to any question is just a Google search away, is the price our ability to consider and explore an issue or question in depth? To really seek out not just the fastest, most convenient answer, but the RIGHT answer – right for the specific circumstances and nuances of that particular situation.

More broadly, are we losing the ability to think critically?

In his book “The Assault on Reason”, Al Gore asserts that “the internet has the potential to revitalise the role played by the people in our constitutional framework. It has extremely low entry barriers for individuals. It is the most interactive medium in history and the one with the greatest potential for connecting individuals to one another and to a universe of knowledge.

“It’s a platform for pursuing the truth, and the decentralised creation and distribution of ideas, in the same way that markets are a decentralised mechanism for the creation and distribution of goods and services. It’s a platform, in other words, for reason…”

But is this what is really happening? The internet is most certainly a great mechanism for the distribution of ideas, but the key phrase above is the word “pursuing”. We have to want to look, we have to take the time to look deeply and thoroughly for that idea and information, because most certainly they are not usually on the first page of the Google (or any other) search.

And call me old fashioned, but for my money, no amount on online discussion or pages of search results will ever take the place of six smart people sitting in a room together discussing, arguing, diving into a question, pulling it apart and putting it back together again. It doesn’t have to be six (choose your own number), but next time an important question comes up in your office give it a try – BEFORE you Google it.

See you next week!


Alignment is Michel’s passion. Through her work with Brandology here in Australia, and Brand Alignment Group in the United States, she helps organisations align who they are, with what they do and say to build more authentic and sustainable brands.

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