What is the cost of being wrong?

Understanding the professional environment in which a person has been shaped can tell you a lot about their likely risk appetite and approach to new problems.

Understanding the origins of different risk appetites can do two things:

Firstly, allow team members to appreciate how their own feedback environment might encourage certain biases, allowing them to reconcile their differences in opinion and approach compared to the wider team.

Secondly, allow individuals to assess the types of feedback environments they are familiar with, and where they might require more exposure to best prepare for the new terrain.

Certain environments are friendly to trial and error. In others, however, it’s best to bring a map.

Moving fast and breaking things

“Move fast and break things” was the slogan that defined “The Four” (Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple) and their approach to engineering and failure. As an approach to development, it fits. This is because programming is a feedback environment where:

1.) It’s easy to make mistakes


2.) It’s easy to spot mistakes

3.) It’s easy to fix mistakes (at least in initial development)

4.) The costs of being wrong are low (again, at least in initial development)

5.) The lag time between making the mistake and finding the error is very quick

What results is a building environment, and thus a feedback environment, which is fairly consequence free; particularly if your programme is not live, and you are not dealing with sensitive data.

So, while error free code is very hard, this is an excellent feedback loop. Trying to hit perfection with a piece of software on the first go is akin to trying to assemble a miniature ship in a bottle in the pitch black.

What’s rewarded in this environment is a bias towards action. Errors are cheap. But compare this to something like GDPR.

As a data controller, where the costs are high, delayed, and difficult to spot (as they rely on knowledge of other’s actions), it pays to be cautious. Understandably, the security of your organisation’s data is likely to take priority when compared to the seemingly short term needs of a new campaign or event.

The marketing team may deem your efforts obstructive – but then they, just like you, only see one side of the equation.

What environment are you in?

The environments we’ve each developed in often shape us long after we’ve moved on.

Using the “move fast and break things” culture, Facebook found that their strategy of speed and “failing quickly” made it difficult to tackle more complex social issues their platform presented, like terrorism, media freedom and balancing this with privacy concerns.

These issues are difficult for Facebook to overcome because they are complex, high cost, indeterminant feedback environments. In short, completely different to developing. The approach that worked for them before is ill suited to these new problems.

It’s not just a lack of preparation. It’s also that certain environments are simply unfriendly to first timers. Just like large scale tech projects and data migrations, where our own expertise lies, there are certain environments where it’s best to go in with your eyes wide open.

They are delayed (an error could take years to discover), costly to get wrong (financially and beyond,) and most problems are often brand new to those that encounter them. This is because certain technology projects occur so infrequently within the lifetime of an organisation, that they may lack a feedback loop altogether.

This is the benefit of the personal and organisational experience in Hart Square. The feedback loop may be delayed and costly, but we do these things over and over and over again.

Where most rarely get the chance to apply their scaling of the mountain after the first-time round, we turn right around and head back up again. We apply the insights accrued, then learn anew. Each time we start a project we do so with the history of projects past to draw from.

The feedback environment is unfriendly in almost every conceivable way. But we’ve been here for some time now… and we know all the routes around the mountain.