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Don’t Break Things April 20, 2018

Posted by Peter Varhol in Strategy, Technology and Culture.
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The mantra in tech over the last several years has been “Move fast and break things.”  That culture has been manifested by headliners Uber and Facebook, as well as by countless Silicon Valley startups eager to deliver on what they know for sure is a winning strategy.

It’s long since time that we pushed back on that misguided attitude.  First, no, you don’t have to move fast.  While we retain the myth of the first mover advantage, if you look at history it is very much a myth.  Tech history is rife with lessons of established companies moving into a new area, “validating” that space, and pushing out the pioneering startups (Oracle in SQL databases, Facebook against MySpace, Microsoft in just about every market until about 2005, to cite three well-known examples).

Second, you don’t have to break things.  This wrongheaded attitude represents only a misleading part of a larger truism, that if you are headed in the wrong strategic or product direction, it’s better to know it earlier rather than later.  The implication with “breaking things” is that you don’t know if you are headed in the wrong direction unless you break something in the process.  Um, no.  You know it because you have business acumen, and are paying attention, not because you have broken anything.

It gets worse.  Companies such as Uber, Airbnb, and Zenefits have redefined breaking things to include laws and regulations that are inconvenient to their business models.  I simply cannot conceive of how this comes about.  The arrogance and hubris of such firms must be enormous.

Certainly there are countless laws and regulations that need to be rethought and rewritten as advances change how business might be practiced.  I have always said that the (only) positive thing about Uber was that it drastically reshaped the taxi industry, I think largely for the good.

But ignoring laws and regulations that you don’t like is simply wrong, in any sense you might think of it.  Rather, you work with government entities to educate them on what it possible to advance a particular product or service, and to openly advocate for legal change.

Oh, but that takes far too long for tech companies convinced that they have to move fast.  And they simply can’t be bothered anyway.  See my first point – moving fast is rarely a competitive advantage in tech.

It’s clear that Silicon Valley startups won’t buy into what I say here.  It’s up to us, the customer and the public, to object to such an absurd business mantra.  To date, we the public have either stayed on the sidelines, or even actively supported such criminal practices as Uber’s because of the convenience afforded us by the end result.  This has got to change.

Update:  Case in point, https://qz.com/1257229/electric-scooter-startup-bird-wants-to-make-it-legal-to-ride-scooters-on-the-sidewalk/.  It’s illegal but it’s not stopping the companies.

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