What’s Your Accidental Damage Score? Now Let’s Fix It.

Hardly anyone sets out to do harm but…

In 2014, at the height of the Coalition Government’s enthusiasm for startup companies, Number 10 set out an invitation to 700 entrepreneurs with the opportunity to pitch in Downing Street. I know because I was asked to nominate some of the companies.

Almost all downed tools and completed the online application process, preparing and submitting responses to a comprehensive questionnaire. That’s perhaps 2,100 hours of work.

Of the 700, 10 were chosen to pitch, and enjoyed photo opportunities with minsters and the obligatory photos by the famous door. The event was a great success and the organising team were pleased.

But 690 entrepreneurs received an email saying they had been unsuccessful.

That’s an Accidental Damage Score of 69

69 times more people having a negative experience than a positive one.

It probably wouldn’t have come to light if a hapless special advisor had not CCed – rather than BCCed – the responses. Some among the 690 rejects noted that the successful 10 had already been involved with government initiatives. They were already winners and were being picked again. While it was convenient for officials to pick known performers, they may have felt the need to demonstrate inclusiveness by inviting others to apply.

This process had huge external costs – creating a cohort of the most dangerous kind of critics (angry, ambitious, capabable – and now connected thanks to the CC). Because of the email, there was swift feedback – but so often a process like this can leave us unaware of the damage we accidentally inflict on others.

But the fact we’re not always aware of it doesn’t protect us from it’s consequences. It’s easy to be accidentally recruiting enemies while you think you’re busily enlisting friends.

Remember the “others”

Whenever we’re introducing a new process we should design as much dignity – and ideally opportunity – into the experience of the least fortunate participant as the most fortunate. Just as the lucky 10 selected for Downing Street were already well connected with government, many processes reinforce existing advantage – leaving a trail of excluded people and organisations who may well feel exploited.

If we accidentally reinforce the relentless effects of preferential attachment, we may inadvertently alienate many many more people than we help. In an era of exponential technologies this risk is ever-increasing.

When we sit in judgement

This is especially true if we’re making selections among people. If we are judging others, we should remember that our rejects don’t vanish – and they have voices too. Unless we can be sure our judgement is flawless, we should consider designing in ways to “win” that are not subject to our judgement. Put another way, our processes should acknowledge that we are making selections, not rejections. And we should always ensure that there are other benefits and opportunities for those we don’t select.

Accidental Damage Score as the “Net Zero for Social Emissions”

To achieve an Accidental Damage Score of zero we need to ensure that we do no social harm. We can compare our “social emissions” to environmental ones. As we design a new business initiative or policy, we should measure its Accidental Damage Score and amend it to minimise “negative externalities” as we discover them.

An example approach to AI implementation

At a recent vocL event Riddhi Karambelkar suggested an application of this approach to AI implementation. Riddhi proposed a “Net Zero Employment Impact for AI” in which employers be responsible for redeploying and retraining all staff who might otherwise lose their role as a result of AI implementation.

While AI can bring great advantages to organisations and society as a whole, Riddhi’s approach highlights the value of considering and supporting the individual people who otherwise have more to lose than gain from its implementation.

Winners and losers

Dynamism depends on finding and backing winning technologies, structures and people, but sustainable dynamism is built on broad consent. When we’re introducing a new process, selecting new suppliers, recruiting new colleagues or identifying investment opportunities, we should remember to track and improve our Accidental Damage Score so that even the worst experience of us is good.

Don't treat people like slag
Don't treat people like slag