Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Corporate Cargo Cultism

"In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land." -- Richard Feynman in "Cargo Cult Science"

Acting like a large corporation will not make you one. The trappings of such companies - the meetings, the excessive documentation, the blind insistence of following process and damn the consequences - are a by-product of becoming successful and large, not their cause. It can in fact be argued that many large companies are actually diseased, paralysed by their size, their culture of CYA and their unwieldy processes.

No wonder then that mega-corps that still retain their drive and ambition are looking to inject some much needed small company vibe into their moribund veins. They want the agility, the passion and the personal touch that only a smaller company can provide.

So if you're a smallish company, don't blindly adopt the practices of the big boys simply because that's the way they do things. They do things the way they do because they have no choice. It's difficult to maintain the personal touch when you have a team of 1000 under you, and you need the reams of documentation when both the product and the team size is massive.

Companies like Apple and especially Google know how to retain the common touch. While the press releases of Microsoft look like they've been written by Borg drones, Googles communiques read like they've been written by the actual people behind the product. People who are genuinely excited and happy about releasing something they've worked on and sweated over and believe in. Real people.

Free flowing information and passion is what makes small, committed start-ups such great places to be. Don't stifle the life-breath of your organisation by trying to be excessively professional and all grown up.

You can make your little firm look like a flake off of a blue chip, but it's not going to make the airplanes land...

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