Game Development Reference
The Banality of Evil
The personality of an organization is not just the average of the person-
alities of its members. It matters how those members are structured.
Structure determines how knowledge, power, and resources flow within
the team. If they're made to flow the wrong way, a group of individual
geniuses can collectively act like raging fools.
The most extreme examples of this are the historical genocides of the
20 th century. The deadly bureaucracies of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia,
and Khmer Cambodia were staffed mostly with perfectly normal individu-
als who would probably be fine dinner guests in another time and place.
But in a certain organization, with a certain culture, arranged in a certain
hierarchy, they became cogs in a machine of death. The political theorist
Hannah Arendt called this the “banality of evil.” She understood that bu-
reaucratic horrors are committed not by cackling madmen, but by legions
of paper-pushers dutifully following their local incentives.
Obviously nobody dies in game development. I use these examples
to show that there is no limit to how much a poorly structured organiza-
tion can taint its own output, even if the people in it are good. Having
good people is necessary, but they will all go completely to waste in a bad
structure and a dysfunctional culture. We must get that structure right.
The question, then, is how to structure good people to do good work at
Taylor i sm
The science which underlies each workman's act is so great and amounts
to so much that the workman who is best suited to actually doing the
work is incapable, either through lack of education or through insuf-
ficient mental capacity, of understanding this science.
In the late 19 th century, most workers decided their own individual working
practices. A bricklayer, metal cutter, or pig-iron handler would be assigned
a task by the manager, and he would complete it on his own time using the
methods he had learned from his years of experience and apprenticeship.
Around 1900 a man named Frederick Taylor began studying work,
and saw massive waste in the traditional methods. So he set about creating
the management style that would later be known as Taylorism.
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