Skip to main content

Friendship in the age of competition

I was reminded last week of a story someone who worked at Netscape a while ago told me. This person was at an industry conference wearing a Netscape T-Shirt, when someone who apparently worked at Microsoft walked up to him and said, "We're going to kill you." and completed the picture by glaring manically, gesturing a slit-of-the-throat and laughing as he clicked his tongue and left. Thats the sort of rubbish stays with you, and is the sort of the thing that comes right from the top. That sort of rubbish is also the kind of stuff I never want to deal with if I can help it.

It takes a special kind of corporate brainwashing to get people to behave that way. Such zeal is usually the domain of religion...and sports fans. :) Most companies have a tradition of painting the competition in a negative light. Some do it subtly, others don't.

Google, fortunately, is run by adults and in general our internal attitude and conversations towards competition (respectful, honest, genuinely admiring when appropriate) is something I'm very thankful for.

Increasingly, I know an extraordinary amount of people at the companies most would consider competition and many are good friends. A few days ago, for the very first time, I had a surprisingly awkward conversation with a friend who works at a company most would consider a competitor of Google's. It was one-of-those "both of us should stop talking, else this could get weird" moments. So a little later, I thought about how I should be thinking about these relationships. Yes, that's a weird sentence.
  • Friends first: Respect the friendship. Don't try to misuse any relationship for information, or put the person in an uncomfortable position, and be comfortable enough saying "Hey man, I can't say anything about that."
  • Its stupid to ignore reality: The Internet industry has so many frenemy-esque relationships, its impossible not to recognize there's always a bit of a conflict brewing. Always have that at the back of your mind.
  • Be genuinely appreciative: If a competitor does something impressive, be impressed... and happy. Learn from it, congratulate your friends at the company on it, challenge yourself to do something better, and don't waste time being envious or annoyed. If something made the world a better place, its a good thing.
  • Its fine to talk shop, just not about your merchandise: I can't imagine not talking about the industries I think about or the companies that are part of it. You share the things you care about most with your friends, and with many of these relationships our passion for these spaces is what we hold most in common. These conversations have to be slightly more guarded, but don't stop having them. There's still a lot you learn even if both of you can't share a 100% of what you know.


Popular posts from this blog

Measure f-ing everything, and assume f-ing nothing!! - Or how mentoring ruined lives :-(

I've been really enjoying the Freakonomics podcast of late. This episode and the lesson we should take a away from it, was a stark reminder of one of the most important things we should be doing - but often don't - in building products or making any decisions: measuring the impact of absolutely everything we do, including the things that seem obviously good.

I recommend listening to the podcast if you have the time, but here's the summary. Stephen Dubner describes the Cambridge Sommerville Youth Study. The impact of social intervention programs in general is hard to measure and so they seldom are. This was the first attempt at measuring the impact over a long period of time.

It's a great story and there are a few good take-aways, but here's the main one: troubled or at-risk youth that received mentoring (good mentoring!) had worse life outcomes across every dimension than the kids that were left alone. Despite the recipients saying that the mentoring was incredibl…

Whimsy when I changed my profile picture...

I changed by profile picture at work.

Later in the day, two people on my team had changed their profile pictures to these.. :-)

It made my day!

I changed my profile pic again today. Let's see how fast anyone catches on this time. :-)

Yup - humans still lack humanity

Every once in a while, I'm reminded that humans can be completely lacking in humanity.

My wife had the following experience yesterday on her ride back home. She got on the train and found a seat. The train was unusually crowded and it looked a lot of people had to stand for a long ride. An elderly Asian gentleman carrying a few things in both hands, was looking for spot, started to complain smilingly about the train being so full and stood in the aisle at the back of the carriage some seats away from her.

She expected someone closer to gentleman in the aisle (lots of younger people on the train) to give him their seat.

No one did.

The train started, and it was clear the man was having a lot of trouble standing up. Then at the next stop there was actually an announcement saying the train was full so please give up your seats to people who needed them.

Still nobody moved.

My wife got up walked to the end of the train and asked the gentleman to go over to her seat. She still couldn&#…