February 11, 2002

In following the ArsDigita closure, I have found many linking to a diary of a start-up, or how ArsDigita began. The goals and inspiration for the company are a place that many would want to work. Remembering back there seemed to me many places that had high-minded goals, but lost sight when money came in. Philip Greenspun also offers his take, which includes a great insight...
Spending time in the aviation world has given rise to some thoughts about why there are so few plane crashes and so many business failures. The FAA establishes strict guidelines on what training and experience is required before someone can be pilot-in-command in various situations (daytime, nighttime, instrument conditions, single engine, multiengine, turbine, all alone, one passenger, lots of passengers, etc.). The president of United Airlines can't hire his old college buddy and put him behind the yoke of a 747 because he has a good gut feeling that Biff can handle the job. Very seldom is a pilot legally able to get into a situation that is beyond his or her capabilities, training, and experience (JFK, Jr., for example, was flying in instrument meteorological conditions with only a visual flight rules rating; he was legally required to make an immediate U-turn and fly back into the clear). But in the business world the Peter Principle rules: people are promoted until they reach a job at their level of incompetence. Because there are no standards, it really isn't possible to say whether a person is unfit for a business job until and unless you give him or her the job. Afterwards it is tough to admit that you made a mistake and demote or fire the incompetent-at-that-level person.
This is very much a meritocracy mindset, which a lot of us that are in techinical fields hold to be true.


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