Thursday, November 16, 2006

Is it wrong to wish death just to see the autopsy?

I want to see Sony collapse.

Not just go broke, or fade away. I mean collapse dramatically. Go Enron, OneTel, crash and burn, create corporate catastrophe.

I bear no grudge against Sony. I have no emotional attachments to any electronics company, and I am not a zealot of a rival, although I do note the hate that some people seem to hold towards the company.

It's just that a collapse of dramatic proportions would give both the motive and the means for journalists, regulators and authors to peer over its corpse and work out what was happening within it.

Because, truth be told, I want to know how Sony can be so damn dumb.

It's interesting to study historic actions of stupidity. Invasions are a great place to start. There are millions of words written on why actions like Pearl Harbour or Operation Barbarossa were undertaken. In the coming decades millions of words will be written asking how it was thought the Iraq war was a good idea.
Why was the Watergate break in undertaken, and why was the more damaging coverup undertaken so stupidly?
Who thought New Coke would work? Who kept giving money to Battlefield Earth, to Waterworld, to Heaven's Gate? Why did dot com shell companies attract so much venture capital?

All these actions of stupidity weren't undertaken by individuals, but by organisations. Each one was beholden to a vile stew of competing incentives, from internal politics, to the personal self interest of constituent individuals and random miscommunication.
And whilst each functional organisation is alike, all disfunctional ones are different, a new tragic operetta and dance of destruction.
Foolish military actions are often attributed to the pressures of military industrial complexes or political weakness at home (a good example being the Argentine junta and the Falklands). In a bubble you have to go along with the crowd even if they're obviously wrong lest you be fired, just ask Jeffrey Vinik. If you're a CEO, you have to look proactive and paradigm shifting, and miscellaneous other buzzwords, to justify your salary and ensure reelection. If that comes at the expense of your real job description, like running the company properly, who's to complain....I mean, besides everyone else.

So what kind of internal politics has led Sony to release exploding batteries, or better yet a hideously late, overpriced, under manufactured, faulty and loss inducing console?
I understand the concept of loss leading on a product to profit on the complimentary goods, but this looks faulty when your competition is underselling you considerably, and you still make a loss. Additionally, when the loss you lead with won't be covered for four years (ready for you to lose on a whole new generation), it looks a tad shaky.
Of course, they're getting Bluray players into homes, and Sony has a track record of getting it's own standards to be the market standards. Look at the success of BetaMax, and MiniDisc, and their DVD encoding, and UMD and...oh dear...

I can only assume there is some kind of zaibatsu pride going on. A company that values its achievements (internally that is, shareholders might feel different) by dominance rather that traditional business ideals like making money. This would certainly explain trophy buys like Columbia studios, which still aren't making any money (the occasional Spider-Man film merely offsets losses).
And part of this is a desperate need to control a medium. But in electronics (with the exception of MS Windows and perhaps Google) there are few examples of a company holding control for long. In fact, the most popular standards, whether it be email, html or the world wide web, are explicitly out of the hands of commercial control. Yet Sony still wants the prestige, as if they are like a railway track, one that can be built and then milked for profits and prestige indefinitely.
Microsoft also seems have the same need for dominance, Internet Explorer was made free and scored a Pyhrric victory over Netscape, and the Xbox and the Zune are further examples that may yet succeed, but these actions, no matter how loss inducing, don't seem as befuddled and incompetent as Sony's.

So I want to see Sony die, so I can peer through its ribcage to the twisted systems within. Maybe there is a perpetual need to pay back Nintendo for a slight nearly two decades old? Maybe market penetration is a substitute for other forms of penetration? If it crashed, Sony's corpse could be the most fascinating since that of the Third Reich, with hyperbole of course.


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