There is a classic riddle which asks where an 800 pound gorilla sits. The answer is anywhere it wants to. This is the philosophy behind the expression "800 pound gorilla," which refers to corporations, organizations or even individuals so powerful and dominant that they literally control or at least influence all other competitors in their fields. The search engine Google™ could be considered one in the web search community, for example, because it clearly dominates the field and competitors often find themselves reacting to any changes Google™ chooses to implement. When an 800 pound gorilla moves, it's often best to move with it or else give it plenty of room.
There are other companies and organizations which could be considered 800 pound gorillas. The computer software giant Microsoft® is often touted as the gorilla of the industry. Whenever Microsoft® decides to release a major upgrade to its proprietary Windows® operating system, other software developers must adapt to the changes in formatting, programming and security or else risk losing their share of the market. Even if a big company makes a wrong turn, as some critics charge with Microsoft's upgrade to Vista®, its sheer size and force of personality can still influence all others in its wake.
An organization can also be considered an 800 pound gorilla. The American Red Cross is clearly a leader in the world of crisis management, for example. Other relief agencies may provide similar services on a smaller scale, but only the Red Cross has such a significant amount of resources and funding at its command. Some may also argue that a particularly large religious denomination, such as Catholicism, could be considered one within the world of religion. A crisis of faith within the Catholic church could have serious ramifications for all other Christian denominations because of its sheer size and scope. Whether the effects are ultimately positive or negative, such a large organization is often the force responsible for major structural changes.
Besides corporations and organizations, certain individuals may inherit 800 pound gorilla status. A powerful and well-connected politician could be described using this term. When a politician of this stature becomes interested in a certain piece of legislation or a political cause, the legislative wheels often turn faster. Certain religious leaders could also be considered 800 pound gorillas in their communities, since their opinions are respected by millions of followers and carry a significant amount of weight in society.
Any 800 pound gorilla is bound to make a mistake or two during its career, and often those missteps or miscalculations can have a damaging ripple effect on the entire industry, but at least it's still able to move. As long as one is happy and moving in the right direction, others can benefit from its leadership, willingness to take risks and the capacity to accept the occasional failure.