You don’t add innovation to a culture, you get out of its way. I’ve often told the anecdote that at a CIO summit I got the comment “we don’t have these Netflix superstar engineers to do the things you’re talking about”, and when I looked around the room at the company names my response was “we hired them from you and got out of their way”. An unenlightened high overhead culture will drag down all engineers to a low level, maybe producing a third of what they would do, working on their own. A high performance culture as I’ve seen at Netflix and AWS builds platforms and encourages practices that magnify the output of the engineers. The same person could produce ten times as much. This isn’t for everyone though. Here’s an analogy: just about everyone knows how to drive on the street, but if you take your team to a racetrack, sit them in a supercar and tell them to go as fast as they like, you’ll get three outcomes. Some people will be petrified, drive slowly, white knuckles on the steering wheel, and want to get back to driving on the street. Those are the developers that should stay in a high process, low risk culture. Some people will take off wildly at high speed and crash on the first corner. They also need process and structure to operate safely. The people that thrive in a high performance culture will take it easy for the first few laps to learn the track, gradually speed up, put a wheel off the track now and again as they push the limits, and enjoy the experience.
Thanks for the great post Stephen!