Archive: Is your company evil or stupid? — from the Career Opportunities Podcast
Almost everyone is familiar with Google, Inc.’s famous motto, “Don’t be evil”. That said, how do you feel about the company where you work? Are they being evil or just stupid? Sometimes it can be very difficult to know exactly, but the answer can mean very different results for your career.
First, whenever I am evaluating the actions of any company, or any person for that matter, I always apply the following wisdom from Napoleon, “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” What may look evil initially might just be an example of extreme stupidity or, even more likely, extreme ignorance. While it might seem evil to you, and you can imagine all sorts of evil machinations, it is important to notice the difference. Your response to each of these scenarios is quite different and responding inappropriately could mean more difficulties in your career at the time when you are trying to simplify it.
The most basic difference between evil and stupid is that I believe it is possible, and easier, to fix stupidity than evil. Even the stupidest companies have the ability to learn and move from stupidity to productivity. It might not be an easy path, but there is a hint of hope there. If you see your company doing something stupid, you can take some small action to correct it, no matter how low your position. You can effect change on stupidity from the ground up. Again, it will be a slow process, but hopefully one that will gain momentum as it grows.
Evil, on the other hand, is pernicious, corrupting and corrosive. One executive, one manager, one co-worker who is engaged in evil, whether that is an individual taking advantage of the company or an entire company taking advantage of its customers, will go to extreme lengths to both hide its evilness and perpetuate it. Whereas stupidity can often lead to illogical thinking, evil can lead companies and people to go completely non-linear. This is what leads to companies like HP believing it is ok to spy on their own employees and attempt to discredit them. Evil eats up a company from the inside and you either join the evil or run from it. There is no way to stay pure while in contact with it.
So, how does this effect your work and your career. Well, it should be fairly obvious. If your company is stupid, there is still hope. You can make changes in even the stupidest companies, if you really believe in their product, service or message. Your decision to remain with the company is based on your belief that you can continue to do good work there, even if there are some problems.
Of course, if your company is evil, then you are also evil…or, at least, on your way to evilness. Every time you reinforce an abusive policy, overcharge a customer, engage in “bait and switch” tactics or whatever other evil behaviors your company exhibits, you, personally are becoming more and more evil. The evil starts to wrap you up in its web. You might think, “Oh, well, its only one customer,” but the proverbial slippery slope is there, waiting to take you into its embrace. It is nearly impossible to avoid the evil when it is all around you. In most cases, the evil stems from the very top of the organization. As the saying goes, “The fish rots from the head down.” If senior executives are engaged in evil behavior then everyone else feels the sting. Ask the employees of Enron how much evil from above can effect their careers and I am sure you will get an earful.
So, in most cases, the best way, and perhaps the only way, of avoiding becoming evil yourself, is to avoid it at all costs. Do all you can to see if your company is evil or stupid, but once you decide it falls on the evil side of the equation, get out. Otherwise, your work and career will suffer. It might not happen today or tomorrow, but evil is repaid in full eventually and you don’t want to be the one cashing that check.