Nov 18, 2022 • 27M

Elon's error calculation at Twitter

A good decision often weighs up what error you're prepared to live with if you're wrong. This week we discuss Elon's firing and hiring strategy at Twitter and what might happen next.

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Twitter as we knew is gone. Elon has fired half the full time employees and 80 percent of the contractors. It’s a brutal way to trim excess fat, reset the culture, and establish a loyal band. But is it a good decision? How could it go wrong?

Elon is incredibly successful at running engineering companies. But if you look at his failures—the fixes he hasn’t been able to affect—they are all in the zone of people; specifically networks of people and machines. He’s consistently failed to accurately forecast driverless technology and he’s overestimated the capabilities of robots when it come to human-like fine-grained automation.

Our key question regarding Twitter is this: is Elon grossly underestimating the people factor in Twitter? As Dave says in the podcast, “he's taking a group of people that work in a system, that have personal connections, have human connections, the kinds of connections that are required to be productive, and he's treating them like bits and parts in a car factory, or like working capital. Something that you can just discard half of and continue going with half of it. He completely misses the fact that people in an organization like Twitter require the other people that are around them.”

One of the good things about Twitter was its intellectualism and commitment to getting better. By all accounts, the culture was one of making a good decision based on considering many (complex) factors. It evolved based on many selection pressures—advertisers, users, activists. Now it’s going to be a place where one person makes what they consider to be the easy decision with an ideology that a system shock is the best way to force a new equilibrium. Elon would rather fix than futz.

This is potentially a perfectly rational strategy. Indeed it may be the only one given the company faces significant financial pressure (in part brought on by Elon’s previous decisions). But the problem with how it’s been done at Twitter isn’t the speed the scale, or even the cruelty. The problem is that it’s all about creating complete unyielding loyalty. A Twitter where you’re either with Elon or against him. We aren’t the only ones to point out the irony of the situation. Almost overnight, the so-called champion of free speech has created a total FIFO (Fit In or Fuck Off) employer.

Will Twitter still operate as a global public square? What will happen next?

Helen: I’m 80 percent confident the answer is yes. We’ll adapt: that’s what humans do. And Elon has an engineering challenge here that he can act on: it’s a financial engineering challenge.

Dave: Yes, but people will be more cautious. “I think people will be more cautious. I think having a singular billionaire, slightly autocratic feature, a figurehead makes decisions willy nilly, throws people in or out, has thrown away all of the guardrails or any form of ethics, is going to have a long standing impact on the platform. So it's going to make people a little bit more wary about it being the trusted place.

Dave’s Nudge OTW: Break Up Problems Early

A company struggling to make the company decision framework function. The real problem? It’s hard to make a decision framework (who could decide what) work before you even know the problem you have. The nudge helped Dave step back and see that the real problem was that people need to understand that they are dealing with different types of problems—hard decisions, complicated problems, complex scenarios.

Helen’s Nudge OTW: Plug the Leaks

A great nudge for improving willpower. No decision is too small. Which means no action is too small either. Stop focusing on the big mass of motivation and focus instead on the trajectory or velocity. What you should do for an hour, do for 15 minutes instead (for example, writing or working out).

Final Thing

Helen: Klara and the Sun. The latest book from Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro. Wonderful story about the relationship between an artificial friend and a teen. Says Helen: “I think it is clever because it doesn't beat you over the head about what an artificial consciousness might be. It requires quite a lot of discovery to figure out exactly how Klara is operating in the world, what the nature of her conscious perception actually is. The more you know about AI, the better it is because you see so many different angles into the way that an artificial mind might process the world. And ways that could lead to enormous flaws in relying on artificial friends.”

Dave: Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making by Tony Fadell. He’s an old friend of Dave’s from Apple who has a lot of wisdom about people and products. “Sometimes the people you don't expect to be amazing, the ones you thought were B's and B pluses, turn out to completely rock your world. They hold your team together by being dependable and flexible and great mentors and teammates. They're modest and kind of just quietly do good work. They're a different type of Rockstar.” Says Dave: “I totally agree with him. This is so under appreciated. Those people won't show up very high on Elon’s list. I would imagine that he probably threw out a whole bunch of those people because they don't show up at the top of whatever performance metric he's using.”

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