How come there are so many smart people in Corporate America who, when banded together, become incredibly stupid? Okay, it happens in small companies too, and God knows it happens in government. But when organizations like GM beautifully juxtapose their so-called "Live Green Go Yellow" initiative with subsidizing gas purchases for anyone who buys the company’s biggest gas guzzlers, you can’t help but wonder if group think could get any worse.
GM’s green program is a great idea. Done right, as The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman describes with razor-sharp accuracy, it could spark the company’s comeback. But instead, its short-term thinkers, no doubt staring at what must be legions of unsold SUVs and trucks, convinced the company to offer gas at $1.99 a gallon for a year to anyone who’d actually feel good about buying one at a time like this.
When this kind of thinking wills out, companies, governments and other groups lose the chance to do something great. They’d rather make this quarter’s numbers than invest the time, energy and money to create something of lasting value, not only for society but for the company as well.
GE figured out that a solid eco-strategy would not only be a good thing for the environment, but great for the company’s reputation and over a fairly short time, damn good for its bottom line, too. Its eco-imagination program is expected to yield billions for the company over the next few years.
What really galls me in GM’s case is that its highly respected head of global communications has either bought into the group think or is willing to serve as the mouthpiece for it. His job is to stand apart, even when it feels mighty uncomfortable (let’s face it; it’s a lot more comfortable to agree with the boss than disagree), and fiercely protect the company’s reputation by advocating for policies that improve it and strongly objecting to those that don’t. A real green initiative, one that spans all of the company’s lines, would certainly fall into the former category.
Until that happens, GM can look forward to more columns like Tom Friedman’s, and we can look forward to more dumb, short-sighted decisions born of group think that may ultimately consign this particular company to the scrap heap.