Willy’s Outsourcing Problem

So by now you’ve probably heard about the infamous Glasgow Willy Wonka ripoff event that was a dismal disaster. If somehow you remained ignorant, basically one guy generated a bunch of AI content (including a script), outsourced everything to various actors and suppliers, and it was a mess. Fyre Festival for kids, as someone put it.

As the internet united around watching and dissecting the disaster, what I found fascinating is how this happened. Not because I learned anything new, but because it seemed depressingly familiar. It was a tale of outsourcing, taken to an extreme.

Most of the news has focused on the creation of AI content by the mastermind (disastermind?) Billy Coulls. It was obviously AI generated, from creepy imagery to hilarious misspellings and nonsense words. How AI generation is just a form of automation, of basically outsourcing. It was merely the most extremely hilarious example of Coulls having anyone but him do work.

There were people hired to bring in props. People hired to act. It seems like every damn thing was outsourced and then everyone was just supposed to make it happen. Needless to say that didn’t go well, nothing happened, everything got ad libbed and there was no chocolate. Not sure how you ripoff Willy Wonka without chocolate, but there you go.

All outsourced. There was no there there, just a bunch of AI art and some guy saying “good luck” before families paid tickets for this fiasco.

This may seem extreme, but outsourcing happens all the time. If you analyze and business or product you’ll likely find some outsourcing, because sometimes you save time and money with specialists. You’ll also find outsourcing backfiring as well, with poor service, lousy computer code, or questionable media design.

If you’ve ever tried to figure out who is responsible for something and had to drill through various organizations to get an answer or a refund? You get the idea. Outsourcing isn’t an evil thing at all, but too often its used to dodge responsibility, screw employees, and not actually do anything.

At the extreme, you end up with an event that isn’t about anything, is all fake, and ultimately is a disaster. Plus it’s hard to hold someone responsible – a little more coverage and forethought and we might haven’t discovered who did the Faux-Wonka fast enough for it to hit the news cycle.

There is nothing unusual about what we saw in Glasgow, it was just incredibly obvious. Many of us have been there before. Maybe we need to ask how much of our world is outsourced, and how much of that plays into the problems we face each day.

Outsourcing isn’t bad at all – I’ve been on both sides of it. But it can be misused.

Steven Savage