For a long time after Google was founded, the companies unofficial internal motto was Don’t Be Evil. The idea was that a company should do good in the world even if it means forgetting short term gains. It’s a battle that Mark Zuckerberg faces every day at Facebook with his move fast and break things mantra. It inspires developers who thing for the long term, but it’s not as popular with investors and media buyers who have a much shorter term view.
Don’t Be Evil is not the worst motto in the world, there’s always Be Evil, but there’s room for maneuver in Don’t Be Evil. The motto sounds morally aboveboard. It implies, “We have the power to be evil; let’s not use it”. But slogans and aphorisms phrases in the negative are often perceived as weak. Nike’s motto is Just Do It – not Don’t Just Sit There. With its motto, Google is measuring its actions on a scale of evilness rather than a scale of goodness. To that I say, congratulations. You haven’t been evil. Now let’s see how good you can be.