Outsized Credit to Undersized Effort

It’s easy to derive patterns and conjure connections from the tidbits of news that we consume daily. Whether it’s drawing a line between the strategy underlining all of Microsoft’s products, to placing all the various aesthetic decisions of iOS7 on one senior VP, to attributing the entire acquisition strategy of a 11,000 company to one freshmen CEO, we craft compelling stories as outsiders with partial information.

As anybody who has worked at a large corporation can attest, significant results – positive or negative – are more than the work of just one person or even one team. Google pre-“focus” gave the outside world a rare glimpse of how big companies work, without a PR filter: each product has its own direction and design and goal, and there is not necessarily an overarching directive that explains every decision in a moment of dashing insight. If things seem to line up, they can just as much be a matter of coincidence as they can be of purposeful, meaningful intent.

The issue with this kind of lazy interpretation is that it paves the way to uninformed interpolation, the Steve-Jobs-as-product-czar meme writ large. Every decision is viewed through the lens of a leader’s personality, and every move is spun until it fits the predefined narrative. They create perceptions and expectations that are counter to the merits of the products and business itself, and discredit the individuals and teams whose hard work did make the result possible.