As part of his European tour last month, Barack Obama met up with Gordon Brown (the British Prime Minister) and David Cameron (the Conservative leader). As is the custom, the two British politicians exchanged gifts with Obama. No elephants or guns changed hands, but the choice of gifts was interesting nonetheless.
Gordon Brown gave Barack Obama two books by Winston Churchill and a silver picture frame.
David Cameron handed over CDs by Radiohead, the Smiths and Gorillaz.
My first reaction was that Cameron’s move was pure spin. Cameron, after all, worked in PR at a TV company for 7 years before becoming a member of parliament.
My second reaction was that it was pure genius.
My third reaction is more nuanced.
Almost everything we do – the way we dress, how we cut our hair, the football teams we support, the cars we drive – sends off clues about who we are, what groups we belong to and what we believe in. Other people pick up on these clues and change the way they think about us and behave towards us. Even the gifts we give tell a story as much about us as about the people we give them to. Cameron recognised this and turned the boring formality of official gift-swapping into a newsworthy demonstration of who he is and what he stands for.
Even their choice of technology – which should be a rational decision – tells a story, and if the story contradicts the substance then we get confused. The Register mocks Ten Downing Street’s website because it’s based on WordPress and has a YouTube channel and podcasts. Dammit, how dare they? It’s like watching your Dad dancing at a disco. They’ll be using Ruby on Rails next and that would just be, well, somehow wrong.
I think these clues tell us something about companies’ personalities. But do companies even have personalities? I think so. At least we assign them personalities and characteristics, just like we do to our pets, our computers and our cars. If this is true, then we can draw lump companies and people into the same buckets. If Gordon Brown were a software company he’d be Microsoft: a steamroller, slightly staid, often dissed but much underestimated. David Cameron would be Apple – image conscious, media savvy, hipper but hyped.
If Barack Obama were a software company, which one would he be? How about George Bush? Post here …