“Don’t be evil” – Google. What a crock of shit. The surest way to get someone to do something evil is to suggest the very idea that they might in fact make a choice that is evil. This phrase is the motto enshrined in Google’s ‘Code of Conduct’. Thought of as a breakthrough in corporate culture in the early 2000s, this phrase amounts to a shell inside of which shadowy firms feign just enough transparency to win customer trust while siphoning personal data for sale to foreign nations.
Tate Plough and I were at a conference in 2002 where then-executives presented this phrase as the altar upon which decisions were made at google. They had the gall to claim this promoted an objective approach to decisions and processes. I was blown away watching people in the crowd absorb the idea. I turned to Tate. “Tate, this can’t be real. Don’t these people realize that the evaluation of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is rooted in subjective interpretation? What are these people trying to pull?”
Tate was sure this was the best marketing initiative he had ever seen. We discussed this at length at a bar inside the casino in which the conference was being held. Flashing lights had placed rows of geriatrics into a trance. They sat, fixated on the screens pulling levers and buttons to make the screens move and the lights go. “Go lights, go.” I whispered to myself as I too became fixated on the moving colors. “Carin!” Tate snapped me back to reality, passing along another frozen pina colada. “Carin, don’t you remember what Adorno said about evil?”
“The creed of evil has been, since the beginnings of highly industrialized society, not only a precursor of barbarism but a mask of good. The worth of the latter was transferred to the evil that drew to itself all the hatred and resentment of an order which drummed good into its adherents so that it could with impunity be evil.”
Of course. Of course! What was missing from Google’s approach to evil was the evil object towards which individuals could react and claim their ‘non-evil’ status. If the whole company was to do no evil, with whom were they to look to for an example of evil?
It dawned on me as I was again fixated on the flashing lights of the slot machines. A body of people could come together as a force for good when there was a central evil towards which they could compare themselves. This notion came back to me as I watched the 2016 election cycle. While many expressed dismay at the idea of President Trump I sat elated on election night eager to see what kind of changes would come about as a result. The charges against Trump’s character are numerous and do not bear repeating here.
What I do see as significant is the way people have come together in reaction to his election and time as president. The numbers that filled the streets in support of women’s rights, the people that flocked to airports in support of refugees, and the sheer number of people newly engaged with their civic duty to participate in our political process. People across the nation are engaging again with the world around them in a meaningful way in reaction to someone they feel is, if not evil, wholly unsavory. Even those that reluctantly support Trump feel a conflict with some of the less savory aspects of his personality.
When I think about this in the context of the business world I think about the executives and leaders that have been derided for their personalities or what other’s perceive as their ‘evil’ nature. Over and over again we see groups of people use these unsavory characters as the inspiration to do better, to work harder, to build better teams, to really think about what it means to do ‘good’ or to do ‘evil’. It can truly be inspiring when there’s an element of evil in your day to day work. Google is slowing down, soon enough they’ll be losing market share. It’s easy to ‘do no evil’ when you’re energetically bankrupt. If you’re trying to move the needle to close out the year, think about adding some evil to your daily routine.