Never compare your organization’s insides with another organization’s outsides

I once heard the brilliant suggestion that you should never compare your insides with another person’s outsides; because they’re not the same thing. For example, just because someone may seem happy and drive an expensive car, that’s only the outside view of that person and it doesn’t paint the full picture of that person’s insides, which you’re dangerously trying to compare with your own inner thoughts/status.

The same applies with comparing things at your organization to things you’ve heard about other organizations. Countless times, including just this week, have I heard managers and colleagues say things they’ve heard like: “Facebook don’t have testers”, “Google has 10,000+ engineers in 40 offices working on trunk” and “Flickr deploys to production 10 times a day so we can too”. These are examples of comparing our insides to other’s outsides, again.

Yes, Google may have 10,000+ engineers committing to one branch but having spoken to people who work at Google it’s not quite as amazing as it seems. For example, firstly the code-base is broken down into projects (imagine the checkout time without this), each and every change set must be code reviewed, have automated and manual tests performed against it (which can take hours/days) before it is even committed to the trunk, even before it can even be considered for a production release.

I didn’t realize it at the time but the keynote at GTAC last year captured this phenomenon perfectly:

Google from the outside (like a jet plane)Google from the inside (lots of people pushing a broken down car)


It can not only be really annoying/unhealthy for staff to constantly hear such comparisons, it can also be dangerous because doing something just because Google/Facebook/Twitter/Flickr does it without knowing the inner workings of their organizations will inevitably lead to failure when you try to do it without that context and experience.

So next time you are tempted to drop something you’ve heard from a conference or a blog post about how another company does something better than yours, or to justify that we can/should do it this way, remember, never compare your organization’s insides with another organization’s outsides.

Author: Alister Scott

Alister is an Excellence Wrangler for Automattic.

3 thoughts on “Never compare your organization’s insides with another organization’s outsides”

  1. I think comparing is good if it leads your organization into doing things better.Google,Facebook etc. should serve as a motivator to doing things differently and better in your organization.


    1. Motivator sure, but the point of this post is that you’re still basing that motivation on the public image of those companies. Unless you’ve actually worked there, you can’t ever know that you’re doing anything remotely similar to what they’re doing. And I’d still point out that Google and Facebook didn’t get where they are by trying to be like other companies.


  2. Completely agree, not to mention that when people at startups do this, they’re also comparing themselves to companies at very different stages in their existence. The Google and Facebook of today probably look and feel nothing like their earlier selves.


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