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When insiders do right
On Hollywood clapperboards, TPS reports, and the high cost of losing institutional constraints on good behavior
Some tools get outsized attention because of who uses them. We know a lot about the DC Metro in part because so many prominent people ride aboard it. We recognize clapperboards and green screens because they're used by the people we see on television and movie screens. And the world cannot help but be aware of Twitter because it features so prominently as a tool used by journalists -- both as a source of information and as a distribution mechanism.
■ That one social-media tool ends up in such a spotlight has made the manic behavior of Twitter's new owner the subject of a disproportionate amount of attention. But the mass layoffs, while eye-popping, aren't by themselves an existential risk. Lots of companies have had painful and dramatic layoffs and survived.
■ What the company might not survive is the de-institutionalization of good behavior. The company's chief information security officer, chief privacy officer, and chief compliance officer all resigned at once. Contractors responsible for content moderation have been fired en masse. At least one means of two-factor authentication has fallen into extreme disrepair.
■ Any institution -- a company, a government agency, a church, a social-media service -- needs to institutionalize good behavior. It needs internal rules and culture that keep it on the straight and narrow. And it needs roles -- like chief information security officer -- that give insiders the authority structure to ensure that good behavior is enforceable. If those roles aren't valued, it's impossible for good behavior to become ingrained in the system.
■ The key, always, is to keep the good behavior from turning sclerotic or delivering unintended consequences. Nobody needs to waste their time obsessing over cover sheets for TPS reports. They need to respect institutional constraints on behavior, share a culture that emphasizes doing the right thing, and devote their best thinking to making sound decisions about hard questions.
■ Wrecking the institutional structures that help (even if incompletely) to guide an organization towards good behavior isn't just a matter of bad sense. It's a matter of opening up enormous potential liabilities -- of the very real financial variety. But it shouldn't take that kind of motivation to keep things well inside the lines for good behavior.