Hanlon’s razor says
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
At first it seems just an amusing little aphorism, something you might read on a bumper sticker, but I believe it’s profound. It’s a guide to understanding so much of the world. Here I’ll focus on what it says about corporations.
I hear a lot of complaints that corporations are evil. Sometimes corporations in general, but more often specific corporations like Apple, Google, or Microsoft. I don’t deny that large, powerful corporations have the potential to do harm. But many accusations of malice are mis-attributed frustrations with stupidity. As Grey’s law says, any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
Corporations aren’t evil; they’re stupid. Not stupid in general, but in a specific way: they don’t handle edge cases well.
Organizations scale by creating procedures to replace human judgment. This is mostly a good thing. For example, electronic devices are affordable in part because companies can hire unskilled teenagers rather than electrical engineers to sell them. But if you have a question or problem that’s off the beaten path, you’re out of luck. Many complaints about evil corporations come from outliers, the 1% that corporations strategically decide to ignore. It’s not that that the concerns of the outliers are not legitimate, it’s that they are not profitable to satisfy. When some people say that a corporation is evil, they should just say that they are outside the company’s market.
Large organizations have similar problems internally. Policies written to handle the most common situations don’t handle edge cases well. For example, an HR department told me that my baby girl couldn’t be added to my insurance because she wasn’t born in a hospital. Fortunately I was able to argue with enough people resolve the problem despite her falling outside the usual procedures. It’s harder to deal with corporate rigidity as an employee than as a customer because it’s harder to change jobs than to change brands.