Greasy Spots on Chairs [Steve Yegge]

Steve talks about Amazon's Bias for Action.

Watch Steve Yegge's podcast


company is like a body

it's not like a person like a human

being it's like a thing it's an entity

that has its own agenda and its own

goals and its own control of resources

and its own value system

and uh

the individual members of the company

kinda don't matter as long as they're

doing their job

and the company cares about them right

the way you care about your heart and

your lungs but if you had a chance to

replace them with a better heart and

lungs you would and that's the way

companies operate too a company you know

sort of maintains its own health

uh uh or asks for government handouts

those are the sort of two options

and um and so to understand you know and

the original people who started the

company sure when it's small and it's

just a small group of people it's just a

group of people but when it grows to a

certain size everybody becomes



and this is important to understanding

why amazon is so dominant across the the

board okay in everything that they do

it's it's really crazy so

so what happens is um

groups can get diseases

and sometimes we call it dysfunction but

it's it's really a disease it's an

ailment right uh you know to give you a

really simple example you might have one

family member who's uh a real problem

somebody who's in and out of jail and

always you know uh getting in trouble

you know with the law or always stirring

up trouble at family gatherings or just

generally a problem right

you can have those in companies too

right maybe not getting in and out of

jail they won't last long at the company

most likely unless they're the ceo

but you have people that are creating

problems okay


and uh

so that's not really a disease so much

as like a wound you know like a

pulled muscle you know or a sore that's

having trouble healing
ssdsdbut it's still a problem an illness an

ailment with the company

because it's preventing other people

from getting stuff done

if you have a whole bunch of those all

over your body then it's a disease

if you have a whole bunch of people in

your company who are holding on to

keeping other people from being


in any way there's lots of different

ways they can do this then your company

is diseased a great example of this is

microsoft and we'll go into great detail

about this uh down the road in another

another episode


it's a really common pattern there are

there are there are companies have a

whole host of diseases that they can get

and they're common like many companies

will have the same disease

and the diseases could potentially

there's a taxonomy you could name them

and you could uh

you know learn how to diagnose them and

learn what the symptoms are and learn

how to treat them and learn which ones

are fatal

i mean like nobody's done this you know

i'm going to start talking about them in

my show you can call me dr steve

uh you you know it's really kind of

advanced to the state of maybe veteran

you know horse medicine at this point

look at a company and just like shoot it

but um you know the the reality is that

uh companies you know they get their own

diseases just like populations get

diseases they can get real diseases or

they can get diseases like being

anti-facts now i'm not blaming

anti-vaxxers if you're anti-vaxx uh you

know don't angrily turn off my show you

know i'm not blaming you for being

anti-vaxxed it's really a failure of the

education system and of uh science uh

marketing and of the government and a

bunch of other reasons uh that that

because it's a very real phenomenon i


there you know some 30 40 of the entire

world's population maybe is is

firmly anti-vax

uh but it is a disease in in aggregate

because it's killing people i mean

that's kind of the definition of a


and so you know how does this happen i

mean diseases can be diseases of the

mind in a sense and companies they do

not have the will

to cure their diseases i mean if you if

you're like you're talking about the old

west and you know you you get you know

an arrow to your to your knee and you

have uh you know uh an infection and you

know you're looking at it and it starts

to gangrene and the doc

doc you know who's your buddy who you

know drinks you know as much whiskey as

you says man we're gonna have to take

that off


and so saw you know sawing your leg off

to save the body to save your life

i mean it happens today still right it's

very painful and traumatic

and breaking up a company

can be very painful and traumatic or

rooting out a systemic illness from a

company because companies are made of


and even if companies don't really

matter people do you know and uh and and

there's also a lot of like legal

obstacles to companies just snuffing

things out we do have at will employment

which means they can fire you anytime

they want

at least in the united states and that


absolutely huge for productivity i'm not

i'm not uh trying to justify it

uh and you know in europe they protect

people's rights workers rights more than

they do in the united states or in asia

but in the us and asia which are far

more productive than europe

in the tech sector uh you can fire

people at will and it's that constant

threat of being fired that keeps people

sort of behaving keeps the the lungs and

the circulatory system and everything

like working

uh because people know that they're

being held accountable right for being

you know for not not diseased

uh but diseases do happen and you know

amazon i'm i'm gonna just say it right


the number one reason that amazon

executes so well is that they are

merciless about rooting out disease as

soon as they find it

and i told you i'm going to talk about a

lot of different specific diseases that

i've seen in action at corporations or

even been a part of okay it's a learning

experience for all of us

uh and uh you know we'll talk at great

length about them but basically there's

situations where

groups of people within the company can

hold the company hostage

this happens all the time a specific

group of people becomes large enough to

become sort of like a a political lobby

or a labor union or you know some sort

of you know

a sub entity within the company that has

its own agenda and it's starting to

fight the host right

and uh and it it's just to give you an

example so that i'm not you know you're

not guessing

being territorial

is a huge disease

in companies a very common one being

turfy that's mine you can't work on that

i'm not working on it and you can't work

on it either

so the company's trying to get as much

done as humanly possible like literally

as humanly possible

and there are humans that are holding

them back from getting stuff done that

the company wants to get done happens

again and again and again it happens at

all companies

except for amazon okay where amazon has

a core value called bias for action

and what it really means is greasy spots

on chairs okay

there was a team that i uh witnessed i

had to work with them i had the sad

misfortune of working with a small team


self uh

self-proclaimed gatekeepers

of the website uh at amazon in like 1998

and 1999. mostly 99.

it was a group of people who uh decided

that in order to protect

the website

to keep the website from uh you know

pushing out some some garbage you know

that's broken that hasn't been

adequately tested that hasn't been

adequately vetted that hasn't met

whatever criteria they felt like coming

up with okay

that they weren't going to allow it to

launch so they actually it turned out

they had some keys okay they had the

keys to actually flip the switch to uh

to move a build and a new set of

features onto the to the live website

production servers they were they were

the gatekeepers right there of the

launched production and if they didn't

if they didn't uh turn turn their key

and and allow the thing to happen you

couldn't launch

you didn't have that ability

and uh

this got like gradually more and more

annoying because gatekeepers will just

sort of like uh root themselves in and

settle down and dig in like like like

funnel web spiders and then they'll just

come by and just eat random people

uh and and stuff won't get done and and

what happened was jeff basil it finally

got to where projects weren't launching

and jeff bezos was like so why didn't

this launch on time and they're like

well you know issues with the the

release train bubble what release train

well you know there's a group of

what group right and then the next day

instead of

the group that was the gatekeepers their

chairs just had greasy spots where a

bolt of lightning had destroyed them


in a biblical just

whoa where's bob and sally my my god

what happened

and then there was a party

because everybody hated them because

they were gatekeepers because they were

slowing everybody down and amazon didn't

care actually it turns out if they

launched garbage to the website because

they could just make people mad and then

they'd call customer service and they'd

get a gift certificate and they get a

big apology and they get free stuff and

they go i love amazon even though they

shipped me the wrong thing and like i'm

a catholic and they sent me pornography

and etc etc every bad thing that could

ever happen has happened at amazon i was

in customer service for a couple years

with their tools

and i tell you




does not tolerate

being slowed down

it's a disease all right


what does that mean that means they have

the willpower

to uh to root it out

which means you know have a stern talk

with the people you know who are

responsible uh and if they say no which

they often do they say no you can't this

is mine and i'm keeping the company safe

it's always in the guise of safety

security whatever right it's see you

know um


one of the diseases that we have is that

the so-called devops team and we'll talk

a whole episode about this you know the

group that holds the keys to launching

uh decides that they're gonna they're

gonna be an obstacle

and most companies tolerate it they're

like oh you know you're just gonna have

to negotiate with them well i don't

really have the authority to blah blah

meanwhile in

in amazon it looks like florida during

lightning season

whole teams will just disappear

because they didn't

they they screwed around they didn't



amazon has a system

uh of what you might call ambassadors or

diplomats okay they're called technical

program managers at amazon tpms

uh but what they really are is their

ambassadors and diplomats

because the the companies get so big

that they become like countries and

there's these different you know very

powerful warlords in charge of the

different um you know like google has

you know gmail and you know

you can't mess with us we got how many

you know gazillion customers and you

know and then there's you know youtube

and you can't mess with them and and so

it's really amazing actually that google

manages to get everything anything done

uh given that they're so you know

balkanized uh

and you know amazon's the same way

except amazon does get stuff done

and and the reason is that the local

warlords have to deal with these

ambassadors that they're not allowed to

shoot called technical program managers

who come in and basically the technical

program manager is an engineer who also

knows how to speak warlord and they come

in and they say we need to get xyz


and the conversation always goes like

this the manager goes



and the tpm says or you'll be fired

and the manager goes

how can i help


that's how the conversation goes at


how the conversation goes at uh you know

google and microsoft and everywhere else

is they go ha ha no and that's actually

the end of the conversation there's

gonna be a lot of follow-up

conversations and a lot of begging and

whining and angry escalating and fist

pounding and gnashing of teeth and

pulling of hair and name calling and

well i've been through all of that

and the answer is still no

that company has a disease and the


is bias for inaction

the opposite of amazon's bias for action

they have a bias for inaction

and i tell you inaction doesn't get a

company very far
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