It's illuminating but also bewildering for me to listen to Toby, Terry and Michele talk about their extensive experience in corporations. This is casual conversation, of course, mostly social in nature. In the corporate ideal much emphasis is placed on competence, efficiency, quick and measurable results, completion of tasks in a timely fashion; the orientation is to the future. The critiques from Toby, Michele and Terry were most severe against people who did not adhere to these values.
I myself am a complete outsider to corporate culture. My own work experience has been in small family owned companies, in hospitals and in adult education departments at community colleges and in a prison, always in lowly positions. My worm's eye view is useful for understanding the lives of small-stakes employees, but it can't explain how (say) a Google employee or executive functions and what the structure of a company like Google is. I have not been involved in buying and selling, either, except in a very small way as an independent language teacher and have certainly never worked on or developed a product.
Out of a need for self-understanding, corporations do ethnographic studies on themselves.* This is quite an illuminating article by Sam Lander on the subject of corporate ethnology on the web site Ethnography Matters. The rapid and always changing tempo of corporate life can lead to hasty and superficial analysis, just out of the need to describe the now and to predict the future. The past does not come into consideration in this context. This is a very different emphasis from the one of academics, who believe that a good, in depth ethnographic study takes at least a year and also incorporates cultural history. Nonetheless, as Lander says, good work can be done in a shorter time-- and most corporations are on a compressed time line-- as long as there is a "theoretical context" and a "systematic method."
In thinking about these matters, this 2009 article from The Economist becomes something of a revelation. It's fairly straight propaganda for new Google products, many of which have quietly expired. We are warier now, less inclined to believe that every innovation is going to revolutionize the Internet. Most striking is the body metaphor of the young and vigorous corporation vs. the middle aged and boring unoriginal corporation.
So what would I ask a Google employee? I would not know where to begin, and the discourse would fall apart unless I came equipped with a theoretical foundation, a methodology. Mostly, corporate life takes place in a black box, opaque to outsiders.
*Corporations are people, my friend.