In today’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman’s op-ed calls for real collaboration in Washington, like there is in Silicon Valley. He quotes “an expert on networks who has been involved in several successful startups,” who notes the need for “collaboration both within and between firms,” where “’collaboration’ is defined as something you do with another colleague or company.” Then Friedman goes on to contrast this with Washington, where it’s known that “collaboration” means always and only working with the enemy. Silicon Valley gets things done, and Washington (especially nowadays) doesn’t. So Friedman calls for Washington types to learn from Silicon Valley . . .
. . . but he doesn’t mention people collaborating anywhere in the essay. Instead he talks about corporations collaborating with one another. It seems that the idea of individuals, employees, being important, is something he actually can’t begin to imagine. The people he mentions are: a corporate vice president, the founder of an energy company, a co-founder of LinkedIn, and the current CEO of the same company. CEO’s and heads of marketing, in the world of the New York Times Business Section (written largely for people who aren’t themselves in business, but want to feel culturally au courant about the economy, as well as the theatre), are the only individuals who matter.
I could go all critical-theoretical, and claim that Friedman is telling us a little bit about The Truth about how the economy works, who is really important in Society right now, and so on and so forth. But why would you want me to? Does Thomas Friedman know anything about this world that he hasn’t read in the New York Times, himself? Why should you, or I, believe that what he says has a basis in anything except his own head?
Finally, two paragraphs before the end of his essay, he mentions developers, the people who do the collaborating. He refers to a corporation’s “developer community,” people who aren’t formally affiliated with the corporation, and who (if they get paid at all) aren’t paid by the corporation. They use the software developed inside the corporation—by employee developers—who do, Virginia, exist—in order to produce consumer tools, or the kinds of tools they themselves would like to use, and they’re motivated by enthusiasm for the platform software, and by the wish to create something cool. But this is not the only model for a company. It isn’t even the concept Friedman started out with, about five paragraphs back. Again, I could ask what Friedman may be trying to tell us, by saying this thing that I think is wrong (or, he could argue, that I didn’t already know, that had never occurred to me before). But why? What is it that’s supposed to have earned a reader’s trust?
The fact that he doesn’t seem to know this, that it isn’t at all obvious that he knows anything at all about the subject he’s writing on, beyond what a handful of sources, cabdrivers, and people at cocktail parties have mumbled in his presence, has already put me off. Just in this same paragraph, he seems not even to know that “the developer community” and “headhunters” are different groups of people. I suppose that a New York Times op-ed writer may be assumed to know the difference. But the fact remains he wrote a confusing paragraph that doesn’t sufficiently distinguish between them. No composition teacher would permit this degree of confusion. Again, why is he supposed to have earned the readers’ trust?
I can only suppose that he really does think corporations are people, and that he understood the quote at the beginning of his essay in precisely that sense.