John Carmack has quit Meta and their Meta VR efforts. I think that this is a perfect example of how visionary people get sucked in and are often ill equipped to the workings of large corporate machinations. The very things that make big corporations hugely successful (ability to work at scale, massive market share, highly disciplined and tracked execution) can ultimately be the reason they struggle with prototype development, innovation, or innovative people.
Some clues are in some of the interesting things Carmack says,
Carmack complained that it has been a “struggle” for him to influence Meta’s overall direction and that he’s “wearied of the fight.” Despite his high-ranking “consulting CTO / executive advisor” title, Carmack complained that he is “evidently not persuasive enough” to change Meta’s VR efforts for the better.
“We have a ridiculous amount of people and resources, but we constantly self-sabotage and squander effort. There is no way to sugar coat this,” he wrote. “I think our organization is operating at half the effectiveness that would make me happy.”
There he talked about his internal efforts to push for the development of a “super cheap, super lightweight” Meta VR headset that could come in at “$250 and 250 grams.” Instead, Meta has put its recent VR hardware efforts behind the heavily overdesigned and $1,500 Quest Pro. In his October keynote Carmack told Meta that “the basic usability of Quest really does need to get better” and that “our app startup times are slow, our transitions are glitchy… We need to make it a whole lot better… much, much faster to get into.”
I think Carmack is a skunkworks technical leader. He’s used to working with a small team of extremely talented engineers on rapid development of extraordinary projects. Skunkworks and vision projects like this get crushed when you try to scale too quickly to dozens of interconnected teams. Instead, one must develop the solid core of the idea and prove it 100% – then scale to production. If you try to scale without 100% coherent vision and the issues sorted out, you’ll end up bleeding money, vision, and worst of all: time and energy switching direction. I think that’s why he feels exhausted and only sees people being 50% effective.
It’s the common case of agility vs scale. Big organizations with skilled but compartmentalized development teams often fail slowly after wasting tons of people’s time. Not because they are bad teams, but because they are often given delivery goals and usually do not have the power to switch direction on their own or often see the bigger picture to ensure the solution works properly across groups. This costs a lot in money, management time, and possibly reworks. Instead of one person failing, approaching the lead with alternatives and then re-thinking the approach at a higher level, the team continues to try to meet the goal without the ability to see the bigger picture or make better wholistic changes.
Anyway – the article is a fascinating read.