Leaky Bureaucracy Promotes Assholes



This article is primarily about IP protection in technical companies, and a fight between Google and Uber over one employee in particular. But what I'm struck by is how Google built up an enormous bureaucracy (among other things taking months to hire), and then Larry Page protected someone who flagrantly ignored it (self-driving car leader Anthony Levandowski), even as other people increasingly called for his dismissal over things like "starting his own company while working at Google and licensing the tech to them" and "generally being an asshole". I've heard that this is an unusually flagrant example of business of usual at Google: it has huge formal systems, with moderate rewards going to people who follow them and huge rewards going to people who break them and get results before they get caught. There are unwritten rules, and written rules that have to be broken to get anything done.

Surprise, the guy willing to break rules for Google's benefit was willing to break them for his own benefit, and at a minimum profited more than he should have at Google's expense and poached a bunch of employees. Worst case scenario he stole a bunch of trade secrets. I feel like Google got what it deserved in this case: they not only gave a scorpion a ride on and ignored the first few stabs at their back; they set up a system dependent on scorpions. Meanwhile they're putting an enormous amount of effort into creating a labyrinth of rules they punish people for following.

Uber itself is a pretty good example of this. There was no way to legally start Uber- other companies tried and died waiting for regulatory approval. So no surprise, we get a CEO who doesn't respect the law or his workers.

This is why "you can work around it" is not a sufficient answer to "these rules are bad". "work around it" selects for a certain type of person. I don't want to be too hard on that kind of person- they have many good traits that are valuable in certain positions. But making it so they're the only people who can get things done selects against traits like "honor" and "honesty" and other things we want the people in charge to have.