Every company I’ve ever worked for talked a lot about their “company culture” which you could generally sum up as “our shit doesn’t stink.” Because “our shit doesn’t stink,” the proper strategy for an employee is to simply go along to get along. Unfortunately, this is not a strength of mine.
I worked for a technology company whose Director of Marketing decided they would take a product that wasn’t selling well, paint it orange, increase its performance by changing numbers on the spec sheet, and then offer it to independent distributors to sell. The company has brand recognition quite like Kleenex that if you’re in the industry and you hear the name, you know that they’re the industry leader with about 70% market share. As I said, their shit didn’t stink. This became the highest priority in the company and was part of the impetus to build a plant in Mexico to handle all the volume.
As a lowly product manager, I heard this scheme, gave it 22 seconds of thought while surfing the Internet, and realized that this was the most stupid idea I’d ever heard.
- Painting it “orange” didn’t make it a new product and our users would see through it right away and wouldn’t want it.
- Artificially increasing the performance specs wouldn’t help either. People just didn’t like the thing.
- The only reason a distributor would sign up to sell this thing would be to get access to the other products in the line that everyone wanted. And if this was ever done, our large direct sales force would go into all out revolt.
Of course, I was properly put in my place with:
- People will believe what we tell them.
- The spec change reinforces it as new.
- The distributors will sell it because the product isn’t bad — the direct sales force doesn’t like to sell it since it’s old, obsolete, and there are better and cheaper options for them to sell. The distributors will be told they can only sell “orange” products and as we develop newer products, we’ll paint the older ones orange and let them sell them. It’s a win/win/win/win/win double win to the third power.
So what happened?
- Distributors wouldn’t sign up unless they had access to the new products which couldn’t happen. The few that did made it clear that this was just a “first step to a closer relationship.”
- The direct sales force wouldn’t have anything to do with this new “competition” creating all sorts of channel conflict.
- The customers all said “this is the same piece of crap we don’t like just painted orange.” The direct sales force was often who told the customer it was a piece of crap in the first place!
Ultimately, I was laid off and the Marketing Director was promoted to Vice President for his great out of the box thinking.
So back to Google. If a programmer is working on search algorithms, enters “Trump” and Google’s top result is “economy is on fire!,” this is a bug in the algorithm. No way are they going to stand up in front of management and say “well, I’ve checked my code a hundred times and it’s the correct result.” On the other hand, if it comes up with “likely to be impeached,” the programmer will be rewarded as brilliant and be given a promotion.
The same thing would happen, by the way, if there was a search engine that was run by a management of mostly conservative thinkers. People hire people that they “know, like, and trust.”.
When people start companies, the founders all say something like “we want to work together with people who are just like us so we can have fun.” Perhaps down the road they say “we hire people who challenge our way of thinking.” This, however, is Bravo Sierra and everyone knows it!