The oft-overlooked problem with standards

If you struggle to set standards, chances are you haven’t considered what purpose standards will serve. Standards are the antithesis of flexibility. Standards are the centralization of decision making. The opposite of centralization is decentralization. Flexibility, naturally, allows for people to work independently.

Keep the tradeoff between standards and flexibility–centralization versus decentralization–in mind when deciding upon standards. Never standardize without a compelling reason to do so.

Laws (universal standards) are often the epitome of neglecting this tradeoff. Recently, Turing Pharmaceuticals bought the drug Daraprim and raised the price from $13.50 a tablet to $750. Many rightfully see this as an injustice.

Hillary Clinton, who is running for office, responded on twitter:

What will inevitably happen–should this issue actually result in a law–is that legislators will extrapolate a constraint designed for this one specific situation and impose it upon the entire industry. But, what might be the harmful consequences of a lack of flexibility because of universal standards imposed upon prices?

Regardless how you feel about how to respond to this, you should carefully consider laws (standards) imposed on drug prices versus the flexibility in pricing in lieu of laws. Maybe you will conclude that a law is the best course of action, maybe you’ll uncover unintended consequences. Either way, if you consider the tradeoff, you’ll avoid a blunder that might only make things worse for the people that need life saving drugs.

This is just one of many examples, perhaps contentious to illustrate that standards are often fought with fervor. Fervor that only increases the likelihood that the tradeoff in flexibility will be neglected.