Good Sportsmanship

Do nice guys finish last?

This article was published on February 03, 2010.
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On Saturday, January 30th, Wired ran an article entitled "Google's ‘Don't Be Evil' Mantra is ‘Bullshit,' Adobe Is Lazy" — reportedly words from Steve Jobs' mouth at an Apple Town Hall meeting that same day. Meant for Apple employees' ears only, his words leaked to the press rather quickly.* This got me thinking about talking smack in business.

Good Sportsmanship

Pros

Everyone loves controversy. People will listen to your every word as long as you're berating someone or something. This nonsense doesn't end in high school or college. Our society's obsession for bad mouthing other people is sickening, but is nevertheless part of human nature. Right or wrong.

This behavior leads to a polarization around a topic and a deep-seated love of your side and hate for the other (Democrat vs. Republican, Microsoft vs. Apple, etc.). People become emotionally invested. And if management is leading the charge then this often leads to your employees' having a deeper commitment to crushing your competition. Steve Jobs obviously said what he said in an effort to motivate his troops for battle.

Motivation is one thing that can come out of smack talk; another one is transference onto your customers. Your customers are your front lines — they're the people in the trenches supporting you and the more loyal the customer the harder they'll fight for you. In Apple's case, these are termed "Apple Fanboys". Being an Apple Fanboy myself, I certainly sided with Jobs and began defending him as soon as I heard him call Google's mantra "bullshit" and Adobe "lazy". "Go Steve!" I shouted.

The most obvious part of any controversy is all the press you'll receive. All press — good or bad — is still press and the press is having a field day with Steve Jobs' comments. Now you've got Adobe defending themselves publicly on their blog and articles flying this way and that. Well done, Apple. The iPad will sell more units now.

Cons

The obvious con is that nobody wants to come out looking like an asshole. That's why most smack talk is behind closed doors. You don't want to be that guy or that company that takes the low road. Unless you're as established as Apple, Google or Microsoft, those kinds of words can bite you in the ass down the road.

Whenever I'm asked about Carbonmade's competition I simply point out our differences — some in their favor, some in ours — and let you decide. I've been explicitly asked in interviews "But how do you really feel?" but I've never sunk that low. I'll let our product and our 200,000 customers do the talking.

Other than coming off as an asshole, I don't think there are any other clear disadvantages. Well, maybe if you end up wrong. Then you look like even more of an asshole. But with three advantages and only one disadvantage, why not start slinging mud? I'm going to continue to be the bigger man, but I can see why Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, Google, AT&T, Verizon and others are quick to point out their competitors' faults — there seems to be something there.

*Reading Material

This is what Steve Jobs reportedly said about Adobe:

About Adobe: They are lazy, Jobs says. They have all this potential to do interesting things but they just refuse to do it. They don't do anything with the approaches that Apple is taking, like Carbon. Apple does not support Flash because it is so buggy, he says. Whenever a Mac crashes more often than not it's because of Flash. No one will be using Flash, he says. The world is moving to HTML5.

On Google:

On Google: We did not enter the search business, Jobs said. They entered the phone business. Make no mistake they want to kill the iPhone. We won't let them, he says. Someone else asks something on a different topic, but there's no getting Jobs off this rant. I want to go back to that other question first and say one more thing, he says. This don't be evil mantra: "It's bullshit." Audience roars.

Adobe's CTO Kevin Lynch responded:

Adobe supports HTML and its evolution and we look forward to adding more capabilities to our software around HTML as it evolves. If HTML could reliably do everything Flash does that would certainly save us a lot of effort, but that does not appear to be coming to pass. Even in the case of video, where Flash is enabling over 75% of video on the Web today, the coming HTML video implementations cannot agree on a common format across browsers, so users and content creators would be thrown back to the dark ages of video on the Web with incompatibility issues.

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