In the past weeks, I’ve noticed systemic failures not due to process, but due to the obsession with holding process above all else.
Take the Covid vaccine rollout. The bureaucracy of enforcing the agreed upon process is slowing it down to the point where doses are spoiling in storage rather than being shot into an “undeserving” arm. In pursuit of holding the process sacred, we’ve lost sight of the actual goal: to vaccinate the population against a deadly disease as quickly as possible.
I have witnessed this phenomenon personally, with infinitely lower stakes, in my own work. There have been times where we paid so much attention to the elegance and internal consistency of our processes that we started to make the mistake of thinking that flawlessly executing them was in itself the goal.
This brings us to two related events this week in the world of tech: the blocking of President Donald J. Trump by various platforms, and the blocking of Parler, the alt-right haven funded by the Mercers (most news outlets call it softly “a social network for conservatives”) by not only Google and Apple from their respective app stores, but also by cloud infrastructure providers like Amazon. With each suspension or removal has come a hand wavy justification about violating their existing policies.
There are many concerns being raised as a result. Equal enforcement (isn’t all the same stuff that’s on Parler also on Facebook?), setting future precedent (but now they could just block anyone!), consistency (why didn’t they do it earlier?), appearances of bias (why only a Republican president?)– all variations of “But what about... the process?!”
Sometimes you just need to act. Moral imperative matters, and I see no reason to not call these moves what they actually are: decisions reached due to a truly unique and extreme circumstance, siloed from generalized policy and process. Some things in business (and life) should be done due to a strong sense of moral obligation, rather than an obligation to mere process or consistency. Why would the latter be considered somehow more righteous than the former?
If you are a tech company, and you feel like you need to lawyer your way into a solution that always fits, then go for it– quickly add a clause to your TOS that says, “If a sitting president of the United States incites a mob to break into a government building in order to vandalize, steal, and kill police officers, with the intention of harming high level elected officials, then we reserve the right to remove his or her account.”
The specificity should serve to illustrate the point that some things really are just one-offs. It’s much clearer to just say that than trying to make it seem as if you’d been planning for this case all along.
There is a limit to process, and this is it.