The Hidden Variable Behind Success or Failure

Here's an interesting article on Google's culture (, reg. req'd).

Corporate cultures are sometimes covered in feature articles that don't get as much attention as the news analysis pieces that throw around hard numbers. But culture may be a bigger part of why a company (or an industry) succeeds or why it doesn't. Of course this all makes intuitive sense. But it's a bigger issue, in my opinion, than the occasional coverage suggests.

Caroline Little, CEO of WPNI, in her ILM keynote Q/A acknowledged that one of the main challenges facing newspapers in competing successfully online was the legacy culture of print. And for years, the culture of the print Yellow Pages industry has not been oriented to succeeding online (that is quickly changing). One could argue that's why is now a separate organization/joint venture, rather than a unit of AT&T or BellSouth — it needs to create a new culture to truly compete successfully.

A Bloomberg reporter once questioned me about why MSN hadn't beaten Google to the satellite mapping punch when it had all the technology assets — the TerraServer — for years. She suggested it wasn't technology, but the culture (and vision implied) at Microsoft.

Indeed, the recent restructuring of Microsoft suggests an effort to shake up the culture and make it more nimble. Obviously now Microsoft is working overtime to make up for lost time online.

There are many more examples of companies I could discuss. But the point I'm making is that culture is the independent variable in success that rarely gets the attention it deserves, largely because its influence is hard to quantify — literally and figuratively.

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