Friday, 18 April 2014

Several views on the firm

What is it for a company to survive over a thousand years?  This currently tells you more about Japan and the relatively stable cultural institutions and non-Western approach to corporate life than it does about what it means to be a company.  But in a thousand years time, there'll also probably be Western companies which are that old.  

But consider how varied the political and cultural landscape will be when you compare 1500 with 2500.  A company (rather than just a bunch of people performing the same work in the same place for that time - like the family farm, for example) has a legal framework which can change over time.  Think how many job types, and by implication, though to a lesser extent, companies there have been and will ever be in the history of economics.  It is not a surprise that the average life of a company is much shorter than this.  It isn't so bad a fate for companies that they die.  Though there's much more to a company's end than it dying.

If a company is an animal, then there's the equivalent to animal ethology - the set of behaviours it currently engages in.  There's its own life history, birth, death, marriages, offspring, family.  There's the science of examining the company as a species - how that species interacts, competes.  But before all of that, there's the basic question of why?  In biology, you get something like the selfish gene/Hamiltonian kind of answer to the why of an organism's existence.  What's the answer to the primordial 'why' with the company?