If You Want Companies to Innovate at Scale, Plan for Companies to Screw Up

The larger a community gets, the harder it is for that community to drive things together in the same direction. Scaling pretty much guarantees division and miscommunication (as well as a few sneaky evildoers hiding among good people). It’s hard enough for a family of 7. Yet many of us care about living in communities of hundreds of millions.

If we understand that scaling social groups creates opportunities for screwups, we should be prepared to make the same allowances for businesses that are trying to create technology at scale.

Take Facebook. For every Cambridge Analytica, Facebook has made 5 products or features that have added value to hundreds of millions or even billions of people.

Or consider Uber. For every 1 person involved in some Uber scandal (like “God Mode”) there were probably at least 5 who were quietly working away on the technology that changed how we give and take rides.

The list of companies we have come to blacklist (even Amazon.com is on some versions, if you can believe it) keeps growing longer.

Maybe some of these blacklistings are worth it. Some mistakes go too far. But there is also something like a “large company innovation screwup rate” that is greater than 0%. If you have worked in a company, you know this to be true. If you could not tolerate the occasional mistake (as long as it generally moved in the right direction), no group effort could last long.

We’re probably all realistic enough to admit that (at least) 10% of our own efforts will fail, or that we will spend at least 10% of our time will be spent in wasteful or unadmirable ways. That doesn’t mean we’re worthless, hopeless, or net drains on the world. Let’s be realistic enough to allow that same grace for the large groups of people trying to build innovative tech.

Tune in tomorrow as I contradict myself and make the case for smaller firms.

Photo by Benjamin Child on Unsplash

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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