No, this isn’t some sort of epistemological exploration of what “right” really means, or whether such a thing can exist at all in a post-modern world. Quite the opposite: it is a blog entry on corporate culture and how that culture works, or doesn’t work, at successful companies, in this case Google and Microsoft.
Peter Sims wrote a piece about why he thinks Google is potentially past its prime, on the way to becoming the next Microsoft. I don’t know if he’s right about that; I suspect he is, but I hope not, since I have friends who work at Google. But in the course of his article, he talks about Google’s corporate culture and how it might be hindering current success:
“Product manager candidates, for example, are told they must have computer science degrees from top universities. But while Google’s core algorithm was a brilliant feat of engineering innovation, a growing chorus of voices question whether it can be sustained. That cookie-cutter approach to people misses important opportunities for diversity and creates glass ceilings for non-engineers, both of which stifle innovation. Cultural hubris, another pattern Jim Collins in particular raises, is of foremost concern. It is often said that at Google the engineers lead engineering, product, and even marketing decisions. But when the company has failed, such as with Google Wave or Google Radio , critics have questioned whether the company really understands people.”
Google has been incredibly successful, and folks at Google will say “our culture must be right; look how successful we’ve been.” But maybe Google wasn’t successful because of its engineering-led culture. They launched with a great search solution right at the time the market was ripe for contextual advertising. So maybe their success was due to luck. Or maybe the engineering culture was important early, but not now. After all, it’s not like Google has been spewing out successful new products (hello Orkut). In fact, Google still makes the vast majority of its revenue from the same search business it’s been running since launch.
In the same way, people at Microsoft used to say about their culture: “It must be right; look how successful we’ve been.” But Microsoft was successful mostly because it had a monopoly on operating systems, which it brilliantly leveraged into applications success. Perhaps it was successful despite its culture, not because of it. In fact, I would argue that Microsoft’s historic corporate culture of aggression was in fact counter-productive, leading directly to the antitrust actions that have hampered the company ever since.
The point is that companies, and the employees therein, should recognize that there may not be a causative relationship between the corporate culture and success, or if there was once such a causative relationship, it may have been severed as the strategic landscape changed. Companies would thus do well to avoid resting on their laurels and to instead constantly examine practices and cultures and see if they need revision based on current conditions.