By Tom Ehrich
In a favorite show called “White Collar,” an off-center character named Mozzie refers to his friend Neal’s FBI colleagues as “suits.”
In his mind, nothing more need be said. “Suits” are bureaucrats, freedom-stiflers, order-keepers, creativity-squelchers. To free-thinkers like Mozzie, “suits” are the enemy.
I don’t share Mozzie’s disdain for people who wear suits, but I understand his passion for freedom, self-determination, creativity and the joy of being off-center.
Suits are in the news right now. Going public as a multi-billion-dollar company has forced Facebook to deal with “suit-ness.” Investors want their payoff. Employees owning stock are frustrated with a 50% dive in the stock price since the IPO.
Facebook’s irreverent public face is giving way to concern for revenue growth, pushing more ads at users, making deals, lobbying in Washington, and, yes, criticism of founder Mark Zuckerberg for not wearing suits.
All understandable, but it does take the fun out of using Facebook.
Same at Apple. With the wildly-off-center genius of Steve Jobs gone, suits are in charge. Now the talk is of controlling the supply chain, waging patent battles, making side deals with Microsoft, and, in a quickly-rescinded burst of utter suit-ness, a plan to maximize store revenues by cutting store staff.
Again, perfectly understandable. This is a huge corporation, and much depends on suits making wise decisions. But where’s the fun? Where’s the zing? No one doubts that Apple products announced next month will be as great as ever. But will they be compelling?
Compelling, you see, isn’t suit-ness. Compelling is romance, surprise, creative spark. Steve Jobs did it when he held up an iPad and said, in effect, “Just imagine what you can do with this.” Next month, the talk will be of form factors, screen sizes, thin bezels, deals with wireless carriers, price points. All well and good, but not compelling.
Just this week, suits-in-charge disgraced insurance company Progressive – and undid $250 million a year spent on ads starring “Flo” — by waging legal war on its own policyholder when her family wanted their due after a fatal accident. And then, when the Twitter world went wild in protest, suits blandly declared they had met their “contractual obligations.”
Now, I read that the suits at Progressive are thinking Flo must go. She smiles too much. As Mozzie might say, “suits” never quite get it.