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  • Writer's pictureShannon Lantzy

The critical outside voice: invaluable

I recently took a ride in a driverless car through the streets of San Francisco, courtesy of my friend, a Waymo employee. The car pulled up next to us on the curb, went a bit further than where we were standing, and signaled for us to get in. We piled in the backseat and marveled as the car navigated busy streets filled with pedestrians, pets, and tourists with surprised faces. (San Francisco residents no longer show surprise at the cars, and many wish they'd go away.)

After a few moments, the novelty of the driverless car receded from my mind, and we discussed the strategy of the company itself. My friend told me how far ahead Waymo is from its competition, describing the level of autonomy that Waymo has achieved. Specifically, Waymo claims full autonomy in specified conditions (level 4), whereas my car, a 2018 Tesla Model 3, claims level 2 (cannot drive without a driver). I retorted that my car's tech can do it technically, but that it is limited by the regulator. He didn't believe me. He also didn't believe that Tesla's automation may reach higher maturity levels before Waymo's, in more generalized conditions. I bet that Tesla's progress may be slower, but will win like the tortoise against the hare. Waymo's strategy is purposefully self-limiting because it is focused on specific geographical areas, and therefore its dataset is drastically limited.

We could have continued the debate, but once we arrived at our destination, the lure of the Tiki bar took over and we dropped it. A few days later I got home and took a video of my car navigating the streets of Maryland, showing my friend how advanced my car's autonomous driving is. He was surprised.

Telsa and Waymo are playing different short-term games. Waymo is selling transportation within geographical boundaries; Tesla is selling hardware to people to replace normal cars. Waymo does not have to scale its hardware in the short term; Tesla has to mass-produce its hardware to succeed. These are very different strategies, monetization approaches, and paths despite "autonomous driving" being the goal. My friend has fully donned the mantle and strategy of his company, which makes sense. One should be enthusiastic and a deep believer! But, this can be a drawback. When you work inside a company, you start to hear inside the echo chamber.

After a year at Waymo, my friend was 100% towing the party line. I'm not trying to throw shade. Rather, I am highlighting that when you work inside an organization, you begin to think like that organization and develop its biases. That is useful most of the time; it is a shorthand necessary to work toward the organization's goals. But, sometimes, internal organizational bias leads to echo chambers and assumptions about the company's prospects. Executives, investors, and anyone with skin in the game of an organization's success need to guard against internal bias.

Outside inputs and opinions are critical to continuously combat success-limiting bias.

~Shannon, the Optimistic Optimizer

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