Firms Standards & Certification

Not all standards are certifications – John D Rockefeller

Some of the most visible standards in the world happen to be certifications. A famous case is the International Standarisation Organisation’s (ISO) quality-oriented ISO 9000, probably the most widespread certification scheme in the planet. And yet, not all standards are certifications.

But not all standards are certifications. At its core, a process of standardisation is nothing else than homogenisation of processes against a given ‘golden mean’, be it by one or many actors, be it formally or informally. Take the case of one of the greatest business minds to have ever lived, John D. Rockefeller.

Take the case of one of the greatest business minds to have ever lived, John D. Rockefeller. John D. Rockefeller’s oil empire changed the face of the world back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Rockefeller used informal standards as a competitive advantage, even choosing the name of his company, ‘Standard Oil’, as a signal of consistent quality given safety concerns about the products of competitors.1 Rockefeller’s example shows that, at its core, intra-organisational standardisation can arise as an informal desire to ensure a consistency.

Also interest from Rockefelle’s case is that it also shows how one independent process of standardisation can lead to further homogenisation of practices at a more general societal level. This is because competitors were forced to match the standard set by Rockefeller to even compete. Indeed, it was not until a Russian-based company called ‘Branobel’ (short for ‘Nobel brothers’ in Russian) matched many of Rockefeller’s practices,2 that Rockefeller was given ‘a run for his money’.

A process of standardisation is about moving practices toward a ‘golden mean’ and this can indeed happen when a given ‘golden mean’ is formally written down as a code and turned into a certification. However, it should be clear that standardisation does not, in itself, bespeaks of the formality of the rules in a field, nor about the number of actors in it, nor even the existence of any regulators in the field of activity.

  1. Yergin, D. 2009. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power. 3rded. New York, NY: Free Press, p. 24.)
  2. Alekperov, V. 2011. Oil of Russia: Past, Present, & Future. Minneapolis, MN: East View, p. 64.)