Silence is the ultimate consent: why companies are becoming political
Emma Barnes taught herself to code after founding her own independent publisher, Snowbooks. She went on to build Bibliocloud, the next-generation publishing system. Now she’s on a mission to promote tech skills within the publishing industry and beyond.
Apple does it. Lego does it. Starbucks does it. In these exceptional times, more and more companies are taking a political stand. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, said last year “As a CEO, not only today but in the past as well, I think silence is the ultimate consent. If you see something going on that’s not right, the most powerful form of consent is to say nothing. I think that’s not acceptable to your company, to the team that works so hard for your company, for your customers, or for your country.”
So on July 13th this year, my company General Products Ltd — purveyors of fine publishing management software bibliocloud.com — will take to the streets to protest our government inviting Donald Trump on an official visit to the UK. The office will be closed, although the customer support helpdesk will remain open (that’s the beauty of mobile devices). We will travel to wherever we think we can have the most impact, with our signs and our voices and our presence protesting a point in history which we can look back to and know that we did something, albeit something small, to contribute to the change we want to see.
Because that’s what our whole company ethos has always been about. General Products exists to bring about change: to improve people’s working lives, to make it more pleasurable and efficient to publish, to remove the burden of drudge and free up time and energy to be creative. We are not afraid to point out inefficiencies and poor practices, and as a company and as individuals we have made it our life’s work to build and share a better way.
Core values as shorthand
So protesting Trump is entirely consistent with our core values. And the core values of a company are a useful shorthand for describing a company’s purpose. It’s clarity of purpose that builds a functional team, and a consistent brand. By clearly communicating on which side of history we stand, we are sending a pithy message to the market about the nature of our company. Buy our software, and know that you are working with people who care about making the world a bit better. That care pervades our work, and is expressed in everything we do. There’s a direct correlation between wanting politics to be thoughtful and intelligent, wanting our software development process to be thoughtful and intelligent, and wanting the way our customers publish books to be thoughtful and intelligent. It’s the sort of people we are.
But won’t we alienate certain customers?
Taken to its natural conclusion, the criticism that can be levelled at a company taking a political stance is “you’re going to alienate parts of your customer base”. Perhaps so. But that’s fine. Do you want to have customers who are on the side of people who take babies from mothers? If there was ever a line to be on the right side of, today’s political environment makes it pretty easy to choose.
Be the change you want to see in the world
What message do you want to send to your customers, your staff, and the history books? Will we see your company at the protest? Far from being a risky stand, this is an opportunity to reassure your customers that they are buying from a company who doesn’t fiddle whilst Rome burns. Taint persists: we haven’t forgotten which companies abetted Nazi Germany. Protesting may not magically remove Trump from office, but it is a chance to formally record your company’s position on the right side of history.