My friend, inspiration and occassionally (when I’m lucky) mentor DHH just tweeted:
AOL is shutting down Bebo aka “How to lose a billion dollars in just two years”: http://bit.ly/95zhi3
Apart from being funny, it points to something I find endlessly fascinating: The link between the personality of the person or people in charge of a company and the “personality” or even “soul” of the company itself.
In some cases, it’s really obvious. Apple and Steve Jobs. Zappos and Tony Hsieh. 37signals and JF/DHH. Microsoft in up until around 2000 and Bill Gates.
And in some cases it’s just painfully obvious, that the company haven’t figured out “who it wants to be when it grows up”.
It’s really very similar to individuals. Most of us have no idea who we want to be “when we grow up”.
Most people really don’t know who they truly are. They are playing a role, they have put on a mask, they’re doing fine, but they’re not real, they’re not authentic. You know what I’m talking about, even if it hurts to admit it, because it might mean that you’d have to admit that you’re not really “there”, either.
Well, relax. You’re not alone. And I’m not “there” myself, either, if that’s any consolation. It’s a process, and something that will take a lot of work and a lot of revisiting old ideas about who and how we should be. But it’s very much doable, and extremely worth the effort.
And so it is with corporations, too. Only they have perhaps 1.500 or 15.000 employees, salaries to pay and other expenses, customers to service, a business to run, and all the while trying to figure out who they want to be.
I remember reading several years ago in Scott Bedbury’s book A new brand world about a branding agency that simply refused to take on Microsoft as a client, because the company had no soul.
I think it’s an accurate statement, and it’s an accurate statement about many companies, not just Microsoft. The same can be said for AOL. And Time Warner for that matter. It’s happened to Maersk here in Denmark, now that the old man is, well, old.
The default when you’re a company the size of Microsoft is to degenerate into being a company without a soul, without a clear personality, culture, value set. It’s hard. Entropy is working against you.
But increasingly I think we care about such things. There are so many products out there that fit the basic feature requirement (they’re all made in the same handful of factories in China, anyway, aren’t they?), that more and more our purchases become a statement of identity and belonging. And in that case, the soul or personality of the company really matters.
I don’t know if there’s any action item for you – something to think about or comment on, specifically. Maybe it’s just my anthropomorphism at play here.
On second thought, I think it’s more than that. This is real, and it’s important.