When debating policy and strategy within firms for instance, the debate takes place as if the discourse will get us to truth or falsity. In fact our decision making is riven with biases, so an alternative to this would be to look for one’s biases and to try to counteract them – to try to guard against stupid decisions. Still, as Robert Solow might say, such an approach lacks strength of character (before he concludes “sometimes I think it’s only my weakness of character that keeps me from making obvious errors”.)
Anyway, this is relevant to a particular kind of dysfunction that takes place within large organisations. Large organisations try to get the best deal they can from their suppliers in terms of price and quality. That’s as you would expect. But they also take this too far for their own good by privileging their own convenience ahead of the smaller organisations.
A relatively trivial example that springs to mind from my own experience is the requirements for putting in a tender for work for governments. They often require it to be physically lodged and then lodged in triplicate. But until you get the job, your tendering for a job is doing the government a favour (unless they’re paying you to tender which happens to short-listed firms for really big jobs like building freeways and so on).
As Warwick Cathro of the National Library says “Collaboration requires effort, and it also requires a change of mindset. In particular it requires a willingness to examine services from a perspective which does not place one’s own institution at the centre.” And like Warwick is implying in that quote, big organisations are not good at that.
I’m wondering if, and how organisations have dealt with this problem?
When I heard of the term “developers’ advocate” within Google and other large software companies I imagined it to be a position that exists advocating within the large buyer organisation for the interests of (usually small) developers outside it and thus seeking to stop the kind of thing I’ve mentioned above by ensuring that small outside firms have an advocate within Google. Having read the description of the position here, it seems that the position is mainly an outward looking role – towards developers and their markets. Yet one of the responsibilities is to “Influence Google developer product strategy by working with product management, engineering, marketing, business development, and operations.”
So can anyone enlighten me in my search for ideas and precedents in the empirical world for finessing this problem of large firms interacting with small firms in such a way as to optimise the balance of their respective convenience?