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The Anti-Corporate Mission Statement: Don’t Change, Stay Original, And Be Happy

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Some self-proclaimed business guru once said if you’re successful, it is time to change. The idea of course is that you have to be permanently dissatisfied in order to get better. Sounds good, right?

Or does it?

The example he gave was Toyota and something about their rising sun or sun rising or whatever. (These business gurus should leave poetry to poets. What is a business guru anyway? Sounds like something you might need antibiotics for.) Anyways, I guess this is the Toyota corporate motto, mission statement or something you hang on the wall in any case.

Hmm, this all sounds really good, for making billions of dollars of profit, that is. But is this good real world advice? Is not permanent dissatisfaction why some people take their own lives? If California gets wind of this, I can hear all the therapists saying, “You're far too successful Ken, it’s time to do away with yourself.” Really, is that the way YOU want to live your life? In a state of constant dissatisfaction?

My 1977 Gurgel X-12 | Copyright © 2006 Underground Art Project. All Rights Reserved.Reliability is a worthy goal. Please don’t get me wrong. However, the automobiles that we have loved the most (and yes at times hated, which is true in all things of passion) were never by any means reliable. But what they lacked in reliability they more then made up for in personality.

My wife still speaks fondly of driving through the hazardous winter roads of British Columbia in her 6 volt ’56 VW oval, and I often recall the adventures in my old VW bus like it was a scene out of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice’s Restaurant".

In South America we were the proud owners of a 1977 Gurgel X-12 Jeep, a wonderful companion who needed to be cared for and listened to. Her peculiarities were not engineering faults, but rather part of her robust character, her way of communicating with the owner. Now computers do all that. Pretty soon we will all be like the Borg. I don’t want to drive a computer and I don’t want to be isolated from the road, and frankly I don’t want reliability if it sacrifices personality just for the sake of billion dollar profits.

Think of the hand built cars of long ago that were made of steel, wood, and leather. Cars that actually had something in common with workmanship instead of Rubbermaid. They were works of art. Being permanently dissatisfied is taking us down the wrong road. Being permanently dissatisfied with their fat profits fuels the current trend of big car makers merging into even bigger car makers. When will it end? Hopefully their own permanent dissatisfaction will cause them to self-destruct and do away with themselves. For once, I would like to see a corporate motto that says: Don’t change, stay original — be happy.

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About Bill Soukoreff

  • Aku

    How can you not change yet stay original? If you do your ting long enough, it’s not original anymore.

    Plus, there are car companies out there “that actually had something in common with workmanship instead of Rubbermaid.” They produce fabulously expensive cars that really are works of art. Perhaps the author is advocating cars for the rich?

  • http://www.undergroundartproject.com/blog/ Bill Soukoreff

    Aku:

    Original does not have to mean expensive. Look at the Citroën 2CV. Wikipedia explains: The level of technology in the 1948 2CV was remarkable for a car of any price in that era, let alone one of the cheapest cars on the planet. While colors and detail specifications were modified in the ensuing 42 years, the biggest mechanical change was the addition of front disc brakes in 1981 for the 1982 model year.

    The 1948 2CV featured:

    * four wheel independent suspension that was inter-connected front to rear on the same side under certain conditions
    * leading arm front suspension
    * trailing arm rear suspension
    * front-wheel drive
    * inboard front brakes
    * small, lightweight, air-cooled flat twin engine
    * 4-speed manual transmission
    * bolt-on detachable body panels
    * front suicide doors
    * detachable full length fabric sunroof and boot lid — for load carrying versatility

    The body was constructed of a dual H-frame chassis, an airplane-style tube framework, and a very thin steel shell.

    The suspension of the 2CV was almost comically soft — a person could easily rock the car back and forth dramatically. The leading arm / trailing arm swinging arm, fore-aft linked suspension system together with inboard front brakes had a much smaller unsprung weight than existing coil spring or leaf designs. The interconnection transmitted some of the force deflecting a front wheel up over a bump, to push the rear wheel down on the same side. When the rear wheel met that bump a moment later, it did the same in reverse, keeping the car level front to rear. This made the suspension more responsive, enabling the 2CV to indeed be driven at speed over a ploughed field. Since the rear brakes were outboard, extra shock absorbers or tuned mass dampers were fitted to the rear wheels to damp wheel bounce.

    Front-wheel drive made the car easy and safe to drive and Citroën had developed some experience with it due to the pioneering Traction Avant.

    The car had a 4-speed manual transmission, an advanced feature on an inexpensive car at the time.

    The reliability of the car was increased by the fact that, being air-cooled, it had no coolant, radiator, water pump or thermostat. It had no distributor either because both spark plugs were fired at the same time, on every two strokes.

    The VW Beetle is another great example that changed the automobile world and received only minor changes in it’s over 60 year life cycle.

    How long is a car cycle today? Most new cars today are copy cats of each other. Where is the originality that constantly changing is bringing us. As YOU mentioned, sure there are expensive cars that are still original, but ONLY for the rich.

    I do not agree that one has to constantly change in order to be original. That is what the economic beast has taught people to believe. Look at Scotch. Companies like Laphroaig, Arbeg and Lagavulin (not for the faint of heart) have not changed for decades. Just because they don’t make a bunch of watery, bland, or gimmick whiskies like the majority out there today, does not mean they have lost their originality. The opposite is true.
    Because they have not changed, they have stayed original. But only because they have a Quality and Unique product in the first place. They are have been doing there “ting” (as YOU put it) virtually unchanged for almost 200 years!

    Remember when Coke came out with the new coke? There was a huge public outcry.

    How long would most people be happy with a well built vehicle that has an original design if the car maker did not completely revamp and redesign it every 3-5 years? I think a lot longer, and with minor improvements we would have better cars. But hey, that’s just me.

  • Aku

    Citroën 2CV makes my point exactly. To quote the very Wikipedia article you cited:

    “The 2CV was produced for 42 years, the model finally succumbing to customer demands for speed and safety, areas in which this ancient design had fallen significantly behind modern cars.”

    Plus how many people would want to drive in such a ugly monstrosity. In the end it was relegated to a narrow niche in the market which proves what lack of change and innovation gives you: Something people do not want, something way behind evolving standards.

    “Where is the originality that constantly changing is bringing us. As YOU mentioned, sure there are expensive cars that are still original, but ONLY for the rich.”

    hybrid drive Tesla Motors .
    There is a whole list of innovative things Toyota is working on.

    In the end, Bill, it is the market that decides what kind of innovation and change is good and what is not. New Coke is a perfect example. If advertising was as powerful a force in creating the desire for “the new,” then we would be drinking it now. Instead, look at how many different Cokes one can buy from a super market now. Coke Classic, Coke One, Diet Coke, Caffeine Free Coke, Diet Coke with Lime, etc. If people just wanted the same old Coke, then why all the different varieties? If you want to see how each type sells, then I would invite you to co to the Coke website and download Coke’s annual report, but then again it might be too “corporate” for you.

    As to the Scotch yes perhaps the actual product has not changed, but everything else around that liquid in a bottle has, from the marketing to the distribution channels. Indeed (while we are on the subject of adult beverages), if change is bad, then why are people drinking more and more Non-French wines? The French Government’s regulatory environment ensure a purity of process, holding to old standards, yet increasingly people do not want them and they are loosing market share.

  • http://www.undergroundartproject.com/blog/ Bill Soukoreff

    Aku, you said:”Plus how many people would want to drive in such a ugly monstrosity. In the end it was relegated to a narrow niche in the market which proves what lack of change and innovation gives you: Something people do not want, something way behind evolving standards.”

    Again Wikipedia says:”The 2CV belongs to a very short list of vehicles introduced right after World War II that remained relevant and competitive for many decades – in the case of the 2CV, 42 years.”

    Over 9,000,000 people wanted to drive ‘this ugly monstrosity’ that remained relevant for 42 years.

    When it did become a niche (or cult) market, only proves how much people still wanted it and did not want to see it go, even in the face of technological improvements. And since when is a niche market a bad thing? Apple has a niche market and so does Porsche and Lotus. The 911 has had remarkable tech changes over the years even dropping from air-cooled to water-cooled which some people mad. But even with it’s flashy changes, when you see a 911, you know it is still a 911 and cannot mistake it for anything else. I think that is remarkable.

    Change is not bad. Choice is not bad. Commercialization is a needed to have choice. Over commercialization is bad, it limits choice. The big guys use there weight and money to dictate what is sold on the shelves. Your argument on Cokes advertising failing to convert the masses to accept the new coke only shows how that people can’t always be bought. The choices Coke offer are good, but people still wanted the original unchanged. The people fought for the choice to have it even if Coke did make a “new Coke”. Choice won in the end and saved an original product from death. My point is, do not underestimate the advertising. Corporations don’t pay $2.6 million for a 30-second spot in the Superbowl because because they have nothing better to do with their money.

    As far Coke’s annual report, yes that is “too corporate for me”.

    Yes, the Scotch is the same. I’m glad you agree.

    As for French wine, the change is a result of globalization and the fact that other countries are now producing great wine also. 15 years ago, wine from B.C. Canada was terrible and the cheapest in the store. Now it is fantastic and some of the most expensive wine in the store. People like choice and enjoying finding a “something new” or “something rare”. That is a good thing. It fuels originality. Wine is not influenced as much by advertising as many countries do not allow wine ads on TV.

    Another case in point. Starbucks has changed dramatically over the years. Their roast has become increasingly lighter and they now have light blends. Why? Because of the shareholders constant pressure to see higher returns. These changes, in the machines (fully automatic) they use and the coffee they sell has alienated their original customer base. They use to be a privately held company with a niche market that was unique and original. Now it is mainstream and common.

    I have no problem with change. However I do have a problem with change, for the sake of change and for higher profits. There are more important things than money.

    Even the big corporations today are trying to act like small businesses because more and more people are bucking the big corporate bullies.

    I do agree Aku that in the end, it is the market that decides what kind of innovation and change is good and what is not. Except I would change the last part to what is successful. Good technology and superior innovation often has lost to more marketing dollars. What is successful today is not always good. Look at Budweiser(made with the finest rice) and Wonder Bread. How many excellent craft brewers have been killed by Budweiser’s distribution stronghold?

  • Aku

    “When it did become a niche (or cult) market, only proves how much people still wanted it and did not want to see it go, even in the face of technological improvements. And since when is a niche market a bad thing?”

    It is a bad thing when you move from a position of large market share to a niche position, as the car in question did (and Apple did too BTW). What it really proves is not how many people still wanted the car but how many people had it and rejected it in the end. When you loose market share like that, it shows something was wrong with the product, company, or both. It is also no coincidence the car lost market share when French and other European markets opened more to foreign competition.

    Porche’s is, by design, a niche company, if you looked at Porche’s financials you would see what I mean. It operates differently than most other car companies, including the ones discussed here.

    “My point is, do not underestimate the advertising. Corporations don’t pay $2.6 million for a 30-second spot in the Superbowl because because they have nothing better to do with their money.”

    First companies are too stupid (they change when they should not), but now their marketing decisions show some inherent intelligence? I will cede this point if you can come up with one study directly linking Superbowl advertising with increased sales. Such a study does not exist, and there is no reliable evidence that that kind of cause and effect relationship exists. Why do they do it? I don’t know. I think the the airtime is too expensive for something with no proven results.

    “Now it is mainstream and common.”

    And what is wrong with mainstream? What an elitist attitude.

    “I have no problem with change. However I do have a problem with change, for the sake of change and for higher profits. There are more important things than money.”

    Private businesses have the freedom to make these types of decisions, but public ones do not. It is fundamentally unfair to ask one’s investors, who put money into a company in order to make money, to keep their money in a nonperforming firm. Now, if the investors have other priorities, like the ones you promote, then it is their decision, but usually that is not the case.

    “Good technology and superior innovation often has lost to more marketing dollars.”

    It is more often a case of an product’s cost, its cost structure, access to capitol, or plain bad management. For VHS and beta, for example, the VHS machine had a much lower cost than a beta. Even when you discounted the VHS machine vs a Beta, you still made more money off the VHS. Because they were cheaper, people bout them, because they were profitable, companies made them.

    ” Look at Budweiser(made with the finest rice) and Wonder Bread. How many excellent craft brewers have been killed by Budweiser’s distribution stronghold?”

    Bud’s “stranglehold” is the result of federal regulations on the distribution network, not because of marketing dollars or anything else. The system needs to change to allow more innovate distribution techniques.

  • http://www.undergroundartproject.com/blog/ Bill Soukoreff

    How can you say that after 40 years a car model that has had a handful of changes finally entering a niche market, and then ending is something bad? That is an outstanding testament to the automobile. It just wouldn’t die.

    Don’t give me that I don’t know why companies spend millions on advertising stuff. If I can track that putting an item in 2 categories on eBay instead of one result in a 15 percent in sales, but a billion dollar corporation cannot track the results of advertising and so they just spend enormous amounts of money doing it, just in case? Please.

    Call it elitist if that pleases you. If you want to choose mainstream, great. I won’t call you boring or say you have no taste. THAT WOULD BE elitist. I demand superior quality and service customized to my personal tastes and preferences for the same price or a little more. I choose things I am passionate about. I don’t have lot’s money, but I would rather have less in quantity then sacrifice quality and being passionate.

    Budweiser has been known to dictate to a retailer what beers they can sell or they don’t get their brand.

    You say: “It is fundamentally unfair to ask one’s investors, who put money into a company in order to make money, to keep their money in a nonperforming firm.” That’s my point exactly!

  • Aku

    “Don’t give me that I don’t know why companies spend millions on advertising stuff. If I can track that putting an item in 2 categories on eBay instead of one result in a 15 percent in sales, but a billion dollar corporation cannot track the results of advertising and so they just spend enormous amounts of money doing it, just in case? Please.”

    I am not saying they can not track it, rather, they have and it has no apparent effect on sales. Please read carefully. I was as astonished to hear this as you when I first heard it, but that is what the research shows. I can try to dig up my notes and cite studies if you want. Again, I would invite you to actually look at, say, Coke’s sales and see if they got a boost from their Superbowl ads. They did not.

    “Budweiser has been known to dictate to a retailer what beers they can sell or they don’t get their brand.”

    Again, this is a distribution problem. If allowed to by relief of regulation, these craft brewers could bypass these retailers altogether.

    As to the car thing, I can see your point, but to me, if the car was that good, it should still be selling today.

  • http://www.undergroundartproject.com/blog/ Bill Soukoreff

    That is incredible. I guess when you reach a saturation point in the market, you spend money on keeping your market share and brand recognition.

  • Aku

    Exactly. The usual explanation is that it is brand building. They want to make people already likely to buy Coke to keep on that path, and influence those who like Pepsi to order Coke instead of something else, like Dr. Pepper, at places where there is Coke, not Pepsi.