Friday, April 07, 2006


Pronunciation: 'mi-shon
Function: noun
Etymology: New Latin, Medieval Latin, & Latin; New Latin mission-, missio religious mission, from Medieval Latin, task assigned, from Latin, act of sending, from mittere to send
2 a : a ministry commissioned by a religious organization to propagate its faith or carry on humanitarian work

I think one of the keys to understanding computer companies in the 1990s is that it wasn't just a job, or a business plan, but that 99% of the ones involved were on a mission. And this mission wasn't just to provide shareholder value, or putting out a good product--all of that was boring and "old economy"--but the fanatical believe that they were going to revolutionize the world, change every paradigm and delivering humanity from the Dark Ages.

1996 was still before the Internet craze hit fully and my co-manager who left for six weeks before the .com crash told me that being able to order posters off the Web would "totally revolutionize people's lives, change the way people communicate, and generate a lively community of on-line poster buyers"--Unfortunately, this type of rhetoric was about par for the course for the .com evangelists that bombarded the hive with business plans and partnership offers in between 1999 and 2001.

Nevertheless, the sense of the "we have a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark and we are wearing sunglasses" mission was strong and apart from helping to put up with the long hours, the salaries and the insane workload, it also tended to inoculate anybody who was part of the revolution from criticism and occasionally common sense. Funnily enough, the movie to best encapsulate the spirit--and the missteps--of the mission movement is Blues Brothers rather than Revenge of the Nerds. Although the typical nerd is much more likely to pick The Holy Grail, because in it everyone was crazy--while the unwashed masses WHO DIDN'T GET IT were the other 99% of society.

A few of the funnier cases of delusion that I remember were: The Horse Trailer, How We Invented SPAM, and Why Won't Bill Gates Talk To Me? -- We'll get to them in the next few posts.

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