A lot of people have made fun of Google’s informal corporate motto — “Don’t be evil — since it was originally disclosed in 2001. And clearly it’s a motto that they’ve failed to live up to at times, but what I really like about it is that it sets the standard to which Google expects to be held.
If Google is evil, every critic can say that the company doesn’t live up to its word. That’s a powerful thing.
Indeed, it’s something that I’ve come to appreciate about the Obama transition. They’ve made a lot of promises, now it’s up to us to measure their performance against those promises, and hold them accountable when they’ve failed to live up to the standards they set.
Yesterday Dan Froomkin, the Washington Post writer who tirelessly chronicled the misdeeds and mistruths of the Bush administration, talked about how he plans to cover the Obama administration. His starting point is that he plans to hold them to the standards that they have promised.
Self-imposed standards are a shortcut to establishing trust. By creating these standards and then living up to them, you demonstrate that other promises you make can be trusted as well.
On a personal level, I’d rather deal with a person or entity that sets high standards and sometimes fails to meet then than one that refuses to claim any standard at all.
Today, Obama set a high mark for himself and his administration: “Let me say it as simply as I can, transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” Let’s hope they live up to it.