Over the decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the concept of corporate personhood–the notion that the law treats companies in largely the same way that it does human beings. I’m a mere tech pundit, so I’m not taking a stance on that legal concept one way or the other.
Still, this I know: Technology companies sure act like people. They’re capable of being idealistic, admirable and, on rare occasion, unselfish. But just as often, they exhibit frailties that are astoundingly human. They brag, and then can’t back it up. They make short-sighted decisions. They get all skin-thinned and say things without thinking them through first.
Like people, companies are also capable of improving themselves, as long as they’re self-aware enough to understand their own weaknesses. With that in mind–and with New Year’s Day almost upon us–I’d like to politely suggest a few resolutions that would make great tech companies even better. (Judging from the behavior of some pretty big outfits in 2011, they could use the advice.)
1. “I’ll be more patient.”
In April, RIM released the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. Anyone who bought one quickly learned that that the product wasn’t really finished and would have benefited immeasurably from a few more months of work. Then in July, HP shipped its TouchPad tablet. Same deal–and when the tablet didn’t immediately sell like gangbusters, HP killed it after only six weeks.
I don’t see any evidence that RIM, HP or the people who bought their tablets gained anything from the fact that the two companies got their products out early rather than when they were done. I’ll remember that in 2012–and if the deadlines slip on any upcoming items I’m looking forward to seeing, I’ll try to take it calmly. It might be a good sign.
2. “I won’t squabble in public.”
Early in 2011, Google got suspicious that Microsoft’s Bing was cribbing its search-engine results. Google secretly injected some nonsense results into its engine, and when the same gibberish showed up in Bing, it accused Microsoft of “cheating” in the search wars. Bing fired back by saying Google had performed a “spy novel-esque stunt.” Watching the sniping from the sidelines, I felt slightly embarrassed for both sides.
I felt even more uncomfortable in September, when Oracle and enterprise software company Autonomy started bickering over a really mundane question: Whether Autonomy had shopped itself to Oracle before selling itself to HP. (Title of one of Oracle’s statements on the matter: “Another Whopper from Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch.”)
I don’t expect Vulcan-like rationality from tech companies, but I think that businesses look best when they’re cool and collected–not touchy and snarky.
3. “I’ll stay humble.”
I swear I’m not setting out to pick on RIM. But it didn’t just release a buggy PlayBook–it accompanied the tablet’s arrival with a metric ton of TV commercials that oozed hubris. I understand that “advertisement” and “modesty” are mutually-exclusive terms. I still think, however, that the marketing campaign reflected RIM’s own attitude towards its brainchild, which was utterly out of whack with reality. If the company had maintained some sense of perspective while the PlayBook was in the works, the odds would have been higher that it would have been a decent product.