A “Insert Modifier Here” Company

The holidays are an interesting time of year…

Time with family, time with friends, time to hide, time to eat (sometimes excessively), and (hopefully) time to relax.

And, as a result of all of these, the sort of question that always arises when meeting those with whom I have a passing relationship:

So, what do you do?

The answer, in the interest of frank honesty, depends on how much time I feel like spending with the person. But the process of determining the appropriate answer to give has led me to an interesting observation.

In your daily life, how many folk do you engage with who describe their employment something like:

I work for a {insert modifier here} company

A technology company.
A software company.
A services company.
A product company.
A {insert modifier here} company.

How many of them are actually correct?

I’ve noticed the phenomenon is uniquely present in those who work in the technology field. This “work” can be either directly or indirectly related to the use and implementation of technology, development and architecture or sales and marketing. And yet, the penchant to describe business as a {insert modifier here} company seems prevalent.

Being somewhat obstinate (horrifying, I know)…I’ve begun to follow that statement up with a simple question*:

Do you really mean that?**

Typically, what I find is that the person is either mis-categorizing their company purposefully or truly doesn’t understand the modifier that they are using. And, when the modifier is appropriate, the resultant conversation is always compelling.

For example, I hear quite a few folk describe their “technology” company solely in terms of sales objectives and marketing measures. This is admirable; this is necessary…but upon prying and I discover that the sole purpose of the “technology” is to match current customer requirements or to address prospect demands (cost plus contracts and hourly rates for customization), I have to wonder whether the firm truly is a “technology” company.

I acknowledge, perhaps even celebrate, the importance of meeting sales objectives and driving sustainable growth for a business. This is a necessary step to ensure the business survives…this is “growth” in the business. And yet, if that is the only thing you are able to discuss when asked about your business, perhaps you are less of a technology company than you might imagine.

The next time you find yourself describing your business, take pause and evaluate…

How do you describe your company?
Does the day-to-day work support this description?

If not, perhaps you are using the wrong modifier…or, even worse, doing the wrong work.

What’s your perspective? Agree? Disagree? Anything to add? Critiques? The comment form is below…

* Yes, I am still invited to a few parties in spite of my neurosis.
** This question is particularly fun to ask when the business is described as a “Web 2.0” or “Social” or “Innovation” company

December 28, 2009

4 responses to A “Insert Modifier Here” Company

  1. nlipke said:

    I think I do actually work for a technology company. Or maybe its a software (soon to also be hardware) company.

  2. tylerhannan said:

    Or, perhaps, a product company…or maybe a services firm? A relatively trivial standard response that requires me to analyze the underlying complexity.

  3. nlipke said:

    All of the above. I assume you didn't have 80,000 person companies in mind.

  4. tylerhannan said:

    Not as such…However, 80,000 person companies are really made up of several smaller divisions, and sub-divisions, and tactical groups, and tiger teams, and other ways of making the vastness feel more intimate.

    The issue is, to a lesser degree, the same when you get to specificity of what is done within the behemoth…which, assuming EU approval, will become even larger.

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