Yesterday, my boss’s boss’s boss (hi, @ormshr) asked me to talk more about this idea I have about how certain sites/tools/companies have DNA that they simply can’t escape.
For example, the DNA of IBM means that it will always embrace structure, hierarchy, and rules, no matter what the rest of the world does. It may have taught elephants to dance when it moved from PC powerhouse to enterprise services, but it did so through structure, hierarchy and rules. When it finds a new challenge, it will fall back to that view of the world and itself to meet that challenge. That’s what mean by corporate DNA.
Let’s start with the DNA of Microsoft. You know what I hate? Microsoft commercials. All of them. It doesn’t matter what marketing team they hire, they will always be bad. Why? Because all of Microsoft’s marketing is based on its DNA, that all of our problems can be solved with the rigorous application of office tasks. Currently, there are two commercials which show a family hanging around the house, creating powerpoint slides (and no, Microsoft Word, I refuse to capitalize “powerpoint,” no matter how angrily you add red squiggly underlines). Now, I have to assume this is some sort of alternate dimension, because I’ve never been in a house where creating a slide deck was considered something fun a family did. Nor have I ever heard of a family deciding to buy a dog because of persuasive powerpoint deck. In the Microsoft world, the only reason you have a computer at all is to write memos, work on spreadsheets and craft slideshows. The web? Angry Birds? Facebook? These are distractions to the true purpose of computing: get a promotion. And helping you get that promotion is the nature of Microsoft’s DNA.
No matter what product Microsoft puts out, it will be in service of the office task. Whatever fun veneer they apply to it (the only reason the Xbox succeeded is because it was treated as an almost separate company from the start), the root DNA is all about the “TPS Report” or “Billable Hours” or “Corporate Memorandum.” What do you mean they can’t come up with an iPod competitor?! I’m shocked!
The mirror image of that Microsoft is Apple, who’s entire DNA is about how much you want to get out of the office. Every product they release is designed to make you forget about the office, that you should pick up your tools and work in a park or coffee shop, that the end of the workday is almost here and you can go play. If you have to be at work, at least the tools are designed around the idea of exploration, curiosity and play. I mean, what percentage of Apple commercials involve people dancing?
Even tools used in a professional setting (like current Siri commercials) don’t seem like “work.” It seems like a friendly, fun process to figure out what your next meeting is about, or what that last text said. From the smiley-face Mac that shows up on boot, to the magic mouse that is really a big touchpad, everything Apple produces is imbued with that feeling of discovery.
The reverse example: What was Apple’s biggest corporate failure in the modern Steve Jobs era? The Xserve server. No one wants to “play” with servers; it just didn’t fit with the DNA.
Then there’s Google’s DNA. Google started as a search engine, and that’s significant. Google believes that there is no problem that can’t be solved or any situation that can’t be improved when you are given the right piece of information from the right place at the right time. It doesn’t matter if what you need is a photo or book, web page or blog post, it wants to give it to you. Remember that email you needed? Or that document? Or that calendar event? Or that song? Or that movie? Google wants nothing more than to be the obedient puppy butler that gleefully retrieves it for you and waits, tail wagging, for your next request.
Google+ is a great example of what happens when you try to break out of your DNA. Google doesn’t understand social, it understands finding and delivering useful information. Google could be good at retrieving something on some other social network, but building its own doesn’t make any sense. When it tries to be truly social, it’s like watching Shaq trying to be a jockey: its DNA keeps it from succeeding. (G+ should be seen as a way to collect, store and share all your personal online information, not at a place to display your “status”.)
And then there’s Facebook. As the youngest company on this list, its DNA might be the easiest to see. Facebook’s DNA is a 17-year-old punk-ass, snot-nosed kid who wants to find a lot of people it can call friends without ever having to be too close, who respond to their whining and rants with cheers for more. Facebook’s DNA is our collective Id, responding with dopamine bursts at our righteous indignation and joyful squeals. Facebook wants to be your social secretary and best friend gossip, not talk about logic or complex issues. It’s is pure lizard brain, connected to 800 million other lizard brains.
Is it surprising that the idea of a meme, while fairly old, didn’t really explode on the internet until Facebook made it easy to share these ideas with our friends? David at the Dentist (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txqiwrbYGrs and only 107 million views) and that surprised kitty (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bmhjf0rKe8 and 60 million views) wouldn’t have existed if they didn’t cause some sort of protean emotional reaction in our reptile brain. And Facebook is the delivery mechanism.
Think about what additions and partnerships have succeeded on Facebook: Zynga games are all about distraction. Newsfeed tickles that “I need to know what’s going on RIGHT THIS SECOND” fear in the Id. And the Timeline is pure nostalgia trigger. Facebook will not be publishing a treatise on Plato or helping you navigate the complex waters of making important life decisions. There is no financial planning app in the works. Facebook’s communal Id is what makes Facebook so successful.