In my career as a web development I’ve seen a lot of brilliant and competent people, as well as a lot of utter incompetents, on all levels of the corporate ladder and working at all levels of productivity. Basically, if I were to make a competence scale, it would look something like this:
– <–10-9-8-7-6-4-5-4-3-2-1-0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10–> +
Let’s say user data release by AOL would rate at negative 7; setting out to rewrite Netscape from scratch at negative 9; changing all the links of an established website in the name of SEO at negative 5; writing tons of spaghetti code that nevertheless functions and serves users at positive 1; coming up with PageRank algorithm and implementing it — at positive 10. There are also those who come into the office and do nothing at all – that’s 0. Ase we all seem to notice and remember negative things better than positive, sometimes corporate life seems like one big orgy of incompetence and bad ideas.
I’ve long had a theory, why even with so many negative contributions, American companies mostly prosper and thrive, despite incompetency. To explain it, I usually use an ant metaphor. See, when ants are carrying a bug or a caterpillar back to the nest, they almost always succeed. But the thing is, they do not cooperate very well. They all have different ideas about which way to pull, and some, instead of helping, actually climb on the cargo or collide with other ants. Others just watch from the sidelines and generally mill about. But even though ants pull in different directions, the resulting force vector generally leads to the nest, and the caterpillar gets there eventually.
Recently, an article about a designer Paul Frank caught my attention. He is fighting his former business partners who jettisoned him from the company bearing his name. He came up with the design ideas that made the company what it is, as well as lent it his name. The business partners accused him of not contributing to the daily business grind, bought out his shares and either fired him or drove him to resigning (depends on whose story you listen to). It’s getting nasty:
” “Those guys are saying Paul Frank is not a person,” says the designer, whose given name is Paul Frank Sunich. “I hear they’re all wearing T-shirts that say ‘We Are Paul Frank.’ Well, you’re Paul Frank Industries. You’re not Paul Frank.”
I’ve seen the monkey design that Paul Frank is so famous for, but did not know that it was a multimillion dollar business. Apparently it’s very popular – and I definitely do believe that both the business partners that made this quirky brand into such a powerhouse and the guy who conceived it made positive contributions.
What I have the issue with is the person who’s running their web department. It’s not even the unusable obnoxious flash-ridden websites that don’t work in Firefox. It’s the fact that this person apparently never did something very basic – typed in “Paul Frank” into Google. Because when you do, you get this as a first result:
I don’t have a problem with the programmer who used a stock client detection script from somewhere. We all do that. But putting “Client Detection Script” as the title of the first page of your site is rather idiotic. And nobody at the company even searched for “Paul Frank” in Google, even if to see what other Paul Franks there are out there!
Getting back to my ant theory, squabbles, badly designed websites and all those people who prolifically do bad things are balanced out by things done right. The website may suck, but the brand is so good that people will put up with it. Individual ants might be doing stupid and counterproductive things, but it all gets balanced out. The caterpillar gets dragged into the nest, whether it wants it or not.