Normalizing deviance

Why bad decisions become accepted convention.

Posted by Mike Apted on Monday, January 4, 2016

During the break I read an interesting article (?) by Dan Luu on normalizing deviance, which is the process of culturally accepting small things we know instinctively to be wrong in pursuit of some short term trade off.

Over time that exerts pressure on new members of the culture to accept those mistakes, as it becomes prohibitive to spend political capital in combating them. Eventually, these cut corners become foundational and wind up manifesting as the root cause of some catastrophe that (hopefully) spurs the needed cultural change.

This example dialog from Dan’s article sums it up well:

new person joins

new person: WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF

old hands: yeah we know we’re concerned about it

new person: WTF WTF wTF wtf wtf w…

new person gets used to it

new person #2 joins

new person #2: WTF WTF WTF WTF

new person: yeah we know. we’re concerned about it.

This is a popular contemporary concern for startups and technology companies where there are often tempting short cuts to growth and time to market, although it certainly exists in all industries. At this time of year it’s also interesting to consider the parallels in personal life as well. What are the small things you do, in spite of knowing better, that you have come to accept as routine?

Dan has an impressive dedication to the spartan aesthetic on his blog, but it’s well worth the full read if the topic interests you:

How Completely Messed Up Practices Become Normal