Why Companies are Doomed to Evil After 162 Employees
May 3, 2007
A quick exploration of mapping social connections between people reveals why companies are doomed to commit evil acts after they reach a certain size. I believe this critical size to be 162, but even if I’m wrong about the particular size, the same theory applies.
Lets say that you model the average employee’s company relationships on a two-dimensional plane. We could say that each person knows two other people. This would create a line like this:
If we really wanted to be true to the average employee relationship model, it would have to look like a ring. Otherwise, the persons on the end of the line would only have one relationship.
But this is hardly what work environments are like. Generally, you know a multitude of people, and may have atleast seen or shaken hands with a multitude more. But how many people do you deeply interact with at company on regular basis? My experience is about three to nine. Sometimes more, but this is rare. So an average employee number of relationships would look like this.
And of course, we have to make the average relationship occurs at all points, so this plane transforms into an approximate geodesic sphere.
Looking at this system, we can make some guesses about communication. If everyone has everyone else’s phone number, they could call anyone directly. Habit and hierarchy usually prohibit this. If something were to be passed by word of mouth, the minimum travel time would be the distance across a hemisphere to the point diametrically opposite.
Word of mouth:
If committing a socially unacceptable action (like dumping toxic waste into the water supply, running sweat shops, or giving up information about dissidents to oppressive governments) is based on your connection to the organizational community, then the larger the organization and the more visible you are in it, the less likely you will commit unethical actions. The extreme opposite of accountability is the jerk in an online forum. His anonymity is his protection. The opposite of that is a family. You certainly know where those people sleep at night.
In small organizations, all action goes noticed because communication is direct. With every increase in the size of an organization the distance from point to opposite (however you define opposite) point increases the distances messages about a person have to travel. Increase the distance and you increase signal loss. So if a company says it will do no evil and a core group of people behave this way, then as the company grows, the effect of this ethic gains less impact because cultural signal break down over travel time. It is not that the people are bad people, it’s just impossible to enforce an ethic over a certain size community.
Of course wrong is defined here as what the community sees as wrong.
Feel free to take these images and use them as you wish.