A few days ago, I saw a nice graphic on the Creating Passionate Users blog which was intended to illustrate Death by risk-aversion:

death by risk aversion

I contend that you can make a very similar graphic to illustrate what happens when too many people get involved in designing a product. Often this takes the form of a cross-functional team of representatives from different parts of a large business. The result is the same: an underwhelming product that excites very few people, including those who worked on it!

Perhaps someday when I leave, I'll follow in the Xoogler's tradition and write about some of the things I've experienced in my years at Yahoo. You'd be shocked by some of the no-brainers I've seen long, stupid arguments over. Luckily I have some pretty excellent stories to balance out those.

Posted by jzawodn at February 07, 2006 09:27 PM

Reader Comments
# Matthew Langham said:

I would contend that this can hold true in small companies as well when only a few people work on the product (I've seen it happen often enough). The employees come up with a great idea but the decision makers (often the owners of the company) are reluctant to take that risk and send the employees into loops of rewriting the plan, adding functionality etc. In the end, the original proudct idea just fizzles or something is developed - just to make the decision makers happy.

Create passionate employees :-)


on February 7, 2006 10:33 PM
# Tara K said:

Don't forget the axiom, "bad ideas made quickly"

on February 7, 2006 10:48 PM
# grumpY! said:

uh, i find the "creating passionate users" blog to rank with the most noisome, smarmy commentary on the web. the self-righteous drivel is matched only by the very questionable tactic of joining an enterprise that certainly typifies almost everything railed against in the blog - sun microsystems (?????).

my own critiques on that blog were deleted, which is ironic in that the posts seem at ease with kicking everyone else in the modern organization in the knees, except apparently for the oh-so enlightened ones who obviously know better than anyone else about how to "create ..." whatever.

i also don't recommend following the xoogler trend of slamming a former employer, even if under the rubric of markign history. it gives future employers (presuming you are not just retiring) the impression that you don't understand what discretion is. do you really want to work with someone who is angling to slam you in stealth on his blog at a future date??? not me.

on February 7, 2006 10:50 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I think there's a difference between "slamming" and telling a good story.

You've been at Yahoo longer than I have. Surely you've got more than a few in the depths of your memory.

on February 7, 2006 11:08 PM
# long ago Y! said:

Netscape Guide by Y!
Y!/Visa Shopping Guide
Y! Digital
The first dozen versions of Y! Shopping
Bea's Web Guide

Half a dozen small acquisitions (50-100 mm) that we didn't pull the trigger on. Then we bought BCST and Geocities...???

I needn't go on...

on February 8, 2006 04:23 AM
# Brian Duffy said:

Just look at the auto industry for examples of this practice... when you visit an auto show you see all sorts of examples of incredible & innovative designs. But after the bean-counters, assembly engineers, labor unions and others get their say, the innovative idea becomes a sedan with a slightly rounded rear fender!

on February 8, 2006 05:31 AM
# jackie said:

email me please

on February 8, 2006 07:07 AM
# nicolasz said:

I come from the agency side and have seen it happen too often at my clients. I thing the phrase is "institutional stupidity".

Have often been in meetings with the global marketing teams - who as individuals are all very intelligent people - and watched the ideas get steadily watered down for the sake of consensus and because it is always much easier to agree then it is too disagree. Therefore any sill idea thrown out by someone who isn't even close to the project gets considered and thrown into the discussion rather than , rightfully, ignored.
(I've also been guilty of this but the excuse that coming from the agency we have to be even more diplomatic then those on the client side)

Also because client's have to seem intelligent and useful to their bosses they have to continuosuly act as 'devil's advocate' - god I hate that phrase and the concept behind it.

What still amazes is that some good ideas still can come out of these big companies

on February 8, 2006 06:51 PM
# Dan Isaacs said:

The best work comes from small groups. Collaboration is most effective when the number of nodes is minimal. 3 people workign together can often do much better work than 20.

on February 8, 2006 06:56 PM
# Kathy Sierra said:

Jeremy, I could not agree more about the whole design-by-consensus thing. James Gosling said a couple years ago, "great art is not created by committee, and the same goes for great software."

GrumpY -- work on your facts. I cut 1 of your first 7 comments, and that after giving you *numerous* warnings. Considering I was sure you were a troll from the beginning, you did well. If you want people to hear your criticisms, try being specific without resorting to rude *personal* insults. I have always believed you might actually have a useful point somewhere in that mess, but your style guarantees we won't listen.

on February 8, 2006 07:35 PM
# Joe Hunkins said:

Great Graphic and I agree that challenge exists in many contexts.

GrumpY to Kathy - harsh dude...OUCH!
Kathy to GrumpY - diplomatic but OUCH!

on February 8, 2006 08:10 PM
# SWS said:

Interestingly the people who are unwilling or unable to take the time to understand fully the idea and elements it works upon are the very people who devolve or cancel the project altogather.

on April 30, 2009 08:37 AM
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