Facing the Specter of Mediocrity: ByteDance CEO Calls for Heightened Crisis Awareness

January 31, 2024 – In the annual all-hands meeting for 2024 at ByteDance, CEO Liang Rubo delivered a speech where he repeatedly emphasized the need for a “sense of crisis” and included “strengthening this sense of crisis” as one of the company’s yearly objectives.

Liang candidly admitted that his greatest concern stems from the fear that ByteDance, as an organization, is becoming increasingly mediocre and unable to achieve new breakthroughs.

From 2019 to 2021, ByteDance experienced rapid expansion, with its employee count surging from just over 10,000 to well over 100,000. Liang noted that many have voiced concerns that ByteDance now exhibits all the typical signs of a large corporation succumbing to bureaucratic inefficiencies.

He discussed several trends he has observed that indicate organizational mediocrity, including inefficiency, sluggishness, and low standards. As an example, he pointed out that the company-wide semi-annual technical review only began discussing GPT in 2023, despite the fact that leading startups in the field of large language models were established between 2018 and 2021.

Liang further highlighted that as the company has grown, he has personally found himself not being surprised, or even shocked, if the company’s efficiency were to be 30% or even 50% lower than that of other high-performing teams. However, upon reflection, he found this lack of surprise to be deeply concerning as it suggests a decline in his own personal standards.

To address these issues, Liang emphasized the need to mentally break away from complacency, raise standards, maintain a sense of crisis, and cultivate a perpetual startup mindset. Additionally, he stressed the importance of increasing differentiation in incentives to attract top talent.

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