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Anil Dash's post titled Google's Microsoft Moment is very interesting. I considered it initially in terms of LiveJournal, but then realized it applied to so much more. How an entity perceives itself and how it is perceived externally are often two different things. For entities to succeed they should aim to adjust and line up both those perceptions.

New entities(organizations or individuals) all go through a grace period where they have a lot of leeway in how they portray themselves. Over time the perceptions are grounded in past acts and influenced by the perceptions of others. Once a perception has matured and hardened it is difficult to reshape.

Perceptions can be changed through a consistent and sustained effort, and sometimes helped by a public disclaimer. If that seems too difficult you could just pick a new name and start over.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 14th, 2009 06:20 am (UTC)
That's really interesting -- I was just talking about "Altria" in an unrelated conversation at dinner tonight. There is something really fundamental about identities and names that humans seem to intuit that organizations like corporations just can't quite click with. (Although I might be more forgiving of ridiculous name changes among individuals because I'm a Prince fan.... :))

Anyway, good food for thought!
Jul. 14th, 2009 11:38 pm (UTC)
The interesting thing to me is that folks see corporations as a monolithic whole; in essence, people anthropomorphize companies. They talk about how Google did this, or Microsoft did that, but it's usually an extraordinarily small portion of that company that's representing the entire company.

Case in point: the open sourcing of Jini. Many years ago, executives at Sun decided to kill off some technology called Jini that Bill Joy's team developed. The night before the axe fell, Bill open sourced Jini, in order to avoid the axe. Well, at that point Sun had little choice but to announced that they, Sun, had open sourced Jini. This was Sun's first foray into open source and was well regarded by the open source community. In fact, it's the initial reason that the open source community took Sun seriously. But Sun didn't do it - not really. A single individual did it and the corporate entity simply spun it. I've seen many examples of this over the years.

So perhaps the issue is what folks see as the face of a company at different times in its evolution changes as the company grows. In the beginning, the messaging is usually coming from a small group of people that are heavily involved in every aspect of the company - they truly represent the company. But as a company grows, who represents all of its varied interests? Arguably, the guys at the top, but at that point they're pretty far removed from the operational aspects of the company.

For a large company like Google or Microsoft, the entity in question feels more like a diverse city, like San Francisco. Gavin Newsome is the mayor of San Francisco, and therefore it's primary spokesman, so when he talks people think he's representing San Francisco. But in fact, you would find quite a lot of people disagree with him on any particular issue. Nevertheless, when he says something that garners national attention, then the folks in Idaho have no idea that he doesn't necessarily represent our interests.

Microsoft's a good example of that. As a company they've done a number of "evil" things, but I know a few really good people at Microsoft. They're doing good work and their good people, but they have virtually no influence on what their company does or how it's portrayed out in the world.

But the best example is probably the U.S. government. We elected Bush and Obama, two people who's views couldn't be more different, but they both represented us. People in the rest of the world have strong feelings about U.S. citizens based on who we elect as our president, and when we elected Bush twice in a row it sent a strong message to the rest of the world. And then we elected Obama. Are we schizophrenic? It probably appears that way to some.

So here's my question, which I often debate with my wife: Are all large companies evil by their very (large) nature? I'd like to believe that they're not, but over the years I've definitely swung more towards the "yes" response.
Jul. 14th, 2009 11:51 pm (UTC)
Public companies report to shareholders, and shareholders often just care about profit and a return on their investment. Greed is not good.

It takes a pervasive culture of good for good to thrive in a public company.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )