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Your procedures are dumb. The fact that you stick to them idiotic.

It’s somewhat of an understatement to say that I hate rules and procedures. The laughing sound you just heard was everyone who’s ever worked with me chuckling about that understatement. The reason for my dislike is easy: Rules and procedures usually assume that everyone’s an idiot. In my experience the only people who thrive in these environments usually are idiots.

I’ve been reminded of that while working together with a couple of agencies on the new website for a mutual client. The lead agency pitched their way of working to the client. It sounded like a good idea at the time. There would be a lot of communication, which is expensive but can reduce the overall costs. Everyone would use their project system, and they would take the lead.

I had the intention to rant about just the top things that went belly-up, but let me shorten that to: When you have people running things who consider the process the end point you end up with a giant turd. In this case the website was late and missed essential features. The process was followed to the letter, and even though it’s raison d’être is avoiding birthing an absolute shit show, it still ended up launching just that.

Procedures: Sounds good, doesn't work

The reason for that is pretty straight forward: when you put the process ahead of the actual outcome your outcome will always be worse off. Because while the tough ought to get going, their hands are bound by the way they ought to act. These sort of systems have a way of casting out people who can actually think. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s Reed Hastings of Netflix fame’s take on procedures:

The mistakes in Pure was that every time we had a significant error: Sales call didn’t go well, bugs in the code. We tried to think about it in terms of: what process could we put in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, thereby improving the company. And what we failed to understand is by dummy-proofing all the systems. That we would have a system where only dummies wanted to work there, which was exactly what happened.

How questions checklists can help

As the strategy dude at bakermen it’s my job to create a framework that allows everyone to get to their best work. We’ve kicked around all ideas between total freedom (chaos), and flowcharts (way too rigid). We ended up settling on a question & action checklist.

These consist of questions that ask about key items that we find important. They will always start with asking what the main objective is for this campaign. Everything that follows needs to have this objective as it’s north star.

We then run through a set of questions designed to get someone thinking about KPI’s. We want them to think about where performance is won and lost. Each question expands to show a few scenarios and how to deal with them. The point is to think about the north star, and how this item on the list helps us get there.

It’s our version of commander’s intent, a military technique used to increase your odds of success. You don’t tell a company how to conquer and defend a bridge. You show them how it can be conquered and where defending it fits into the bigger picture. When the company succeeds it can now help achieve the big picture goal more efficiently. When it fails it can improvise to achieve the same intent in a different way.

If you know what the big picture outcome should be, and you’re giving several options of getting there, you’ll find your way. Specific and rigid instructions get you lost when things don’t go to plan.

I’m taking the Facebook diet

I haven’t deleted the Facebook app from my phone, or from my iPad, or blocked it in my browsers but I’m taking a well needed Facebook diet. I have turned off all the notifications, background refreshes and removed it from my homescreens. Facebook: We are on a break.

I’ve long believed that no good can come from the way most of us use it. The silly time wasters, it’s relentless focus on making users present themselves as happy, and it’s full frontal attack on democracy because it’s more profitable to act as if you’re a platform rather than a media company… The list of negative side effect is almost endless.

The past few weeks have shown that this company is either woefully unaware of these unintended consequences, or — more likely — wilfully blind of them. Yet even their own study has concluded that using it’s product can be bad for your mental health.

The last few days have also shown that the company leadership has drank too much of their own Kool-Aid. While they might believe they’re bringing people together, their algorithmic filter bubbles pull them further apart. The way they casually traded data in order to collect even more information about its users is worrying. The missing sense of wrongdoing is probably worse.

So a whole lot of downsides to a product that doesn’t really offer too many upsides. While it’s really great to know that Anna from high school is proud of her kids and #blessed… I have to give up too much privacy and mental well being. All of this so that Mark Z. and his thousands of employees can make a living selling slightly better targeted ads, unintended consequences be damned. Seems like a pretty bad deal for me and you.

Can Google & Facebook regulate themselves?

The search and social behemoths receive nearly 20% of all advertising spending in the world. They receive those billions without a lot of rules — let alone oversight — and they want to keep it that way.

The American congress is investigating wether or not the online advertising market needs to be regulated (spoiler alert: it does), and what can be done to prevent more foreign meddling in elections. Google and Facebook, together with the IAB, have taken the position that it would be more efficient if these companies regulated themselves (spoiler alert: They won’t).

The IAB argues that it’s members will employ common sense, technology, human intervention and self regulation to eliminate bad actors. This coming from the same people who brought you:

  • Mark Zuckerbergs VR tour in Puerto Rico
  • Privacy erasing tracking systems
  • A denial that they’re in the media business in the first place
  • A laissez faire approach with shady advertisers promising love/unseen riches.

Banking was the last sector which enjoyed sweeping self regulation with the abolishment of the Glass-Steagal act. It only took 9 years to completely implode on itself with the crash of 2008. But I guess we can trust these two giants to act in the best interest of the market and consumers. Spoiler alert: They won’t.