The Awkward Years

This is the second in a series (see the first) of articles analysing corporate personhood and the standards to which we hold corporations. Since Dartmouth v. Woodward in 1819, private corporations have been viewed as having many of the same rights as you or I, prompting one to look at the state of business around them and ask simply, what kind of person are you?

Companies grow just as people grow and somewhere between being a cute and adorable infant and a fully functional adult, both people and corporate persons go through a phase of being annoying, confused, misguided and kinda funny looking. Along with the rights corporations inherit by being persons, come some of the same challenges and difficulties that regular people face when suffering through the awkward teen years.

Last week , we looked at the similarities between infants and startups and this week, we’re going to think through some comparisons of that in-between phase; you’re big enough to think you can take care of yourself, but you really have no idea what you’re doing just yet and will go through a lot more changes before coming into your own. However, unlike your average pimple-faced teen, medium sized corporations seem to be bigger outcasts than that kid you knew growing up who collected toenail clippings.

If corporations are persons, then why do they have so few friends?
It is odd that so little genuine interaction happens between companies. Sure, manufacturers sell things to distributors and retailers and of course, service providers lend a hand in times of need (for the right price). However, would you really call any of this friendship? To me, these are transactional relationships. Friendship is defined by a certain connection and collaboration – what the business world likes to call a partnership.

We see a handful of these in the world: Nike & Apple on early generations of the Fuel system, Google doling out various iterations of the Nexus to a rotating cast of hardware partners, Microsoft integrating Sync into the new line of Ford vehicles. However, thinking of those 3 examples was the bottleneck to me writing this whole article. On the whole, companies tend to stick to themselves and minimize interaction with other persons or keep them so basic, cold and calculated that one has to question whether some even have the ability to make friends.

If corporations are persons, then most of them are sociopaths.
When we think about it this way, it feels a lot like corporations don’t play very well with others; so much so that you could even call this behaviour somewhat sociopathic. Couple the lack of friends with a patent disregard for the rights and needs of others and, while I’m no psychiatrist, I would be curious to see how one would analyse this basic profile:

Has very few friends and tends to exploit or manipulate those closest to them. Obsessively focused on money and the creation of profit above anything else. Shows a pattern of deceitfulness and a disregard for authority. Fails to adhere to social norms show basic empathy when interacting with others. Engages in impulsive behavior due to a reactionary personality and an inability to effectively plan for the long term.

Any one of the above statements could be a marker for antisocial personality disorder and by my count, the bulk of companies probably tick off most of them. I would step forth and recommend that these corporate persons seek help, however, the reality is that many of them already do.

If corporations are persons, then consulting firms are therapists.
You could see this one coming from a mile away. While I haven’t had a client lay on a leather couch in years, the typical consulting process goes like this:

  • They tell us what’s wrong and what things have been troubling them
  • We work with them to dig deeper on the issues and get to the root cause
  • We collaborate to think of solutions to their problem that best fit their context
  • We conclude by recommending a plan of what to do next, but usually walk away and leave them to do it themselves

This is consulting in a nutshell and while I’ve never sought professional psychiatric help (I know, I’m shocked too) my understanding of that experience (admittedly, a Hollywood understanding) isn’t far off this one. Yet with so many corporate counsellors running around in immaculate suits, why does it feel like corporations haven’t improved much?

Either the bulk of us are terrible at our jobs (not pointing any fingers) or corporations are the biggest head-cases you’ve ever seen. Regardless, what matters is that we’ve identified a segment of persons in this world who seem to have deep-seeded psychiatric issues and as of yet, no effective way to treat them.

If you want your customers to start respecting you like a person, then start acting like one.