Designing a human process around pathological cases leads to processes that are themselves pathological.

I've found myself recommending That Wild Ask A Manager Story by Jacob Kaplan-Moss so much that I've decided to write a short note about it.

I will quote the essential ideas below to prevent them from disappearing.

But, I recommend reading the original if you can That Wild Ask A Manager Story.

The premise here is simple: designing a human process around pathological cases leads to processes that are themselves pathological.

When we design software systems, we learn to think deeply about corner cases. We code defensively, making sure our systems handle all sorts of uncommon events. Amazon promises 99.999999999% reliability on objects stored in S3, and even then I've written code that handles the 0.000000001% chance that an object disappears.

Designing human systems is different. Computers don't have emotions; I don't need to worry insulting the vast majority of S3 objects when I defensively check integrity every time. But humans are different; when we design a human system around uncommon cases, we do need to consider the ramifications on the majority. There are times – and this is one of them – where addressing outlandish behavior requires steps that are just unacceptable.

When something goes wrong, our impulse is to try to make some sort of a change that prevents that problem from ever happening against. But when we're talking about human systems, we need to measure the cost. Preventing pathological behavior in human systems often creates highly uncomfortable and off-putting processes. In human systems, not all corner cases need fixes. Sometimes the best response is just to roll your eyes, say "people, am I right?" and get back to work.

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