Reinventing Business
Discovering Your Best Organizational Structure

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

We Must Do More Than Call An Idea "Dumb"

In Salesforce CEO Slams 'The World's Dumbest Idea': Maximizing Shareholder Value, Steve Denning, the "Radical Management guy," points out the opposite of what MBA programs teach: that maximizing quarterly profits is aggressively harmful, not just to the rest of the world, but to the company itself.

Obvious conclusion: stop doing that.

The problem is that it isn't just one of those things we facepalm and say "what was I thinking?" It's structural. The system is set up so that, in a publicly-held company, the shareholders are the owners. By and large, the owners are there to make profits. They can like or dislike a company, but for most shareholders their single point of contact is whether the company is increasing their value. Declaring that we should think differently isn't going to change the overwhelming pressure of that structure.

Even if you have a great CEO and C-suite, anytime there's a difficulty in the company, the pressure will drive you, even just a little, towards short-term-profit thinking. It's inevitable, it's the way the system is structured. And over time, it will creep. Once-great companies creep towards their doom.

When considering self-management, the issue of shareholder voting is critical, because self-management says "there are no bosses." But if shareholders can vote, they are your bosses and they can take whatever great self-management system you've created and trash it (the big international energy company in the Reinventing Organizations book did exactly that). To create a true Teal organization, these kinds of details must be fixed, otherwise you're still at the mercy of the industrial-age structure--worse because it's hidden inside shareholder voting.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Money Pile

Economics is the study of value flow.
Lack of transparency allows people to game a system. Industrial-age organizations constantly reinforce the idea that resource allocation, like all the really important decisions, is a (mysterious) job for experts. Teal/Trust organizations use wisdom-of-crowd techniques. For this to work, everyone in the crowd must be able to act independently, while at the same time being aware and connected with those around them.

Usually the last day of a workshop means winding down, getting feedback, general denouement. So I was quite surprised to experience one of the most profound exercises of the week, the Money Pile. My impression is that this was developed by one of the workshop leaders, Karl Steyaert, and that this might have been the first time he ran the exercise because he said he was quite nervous about it.

This exercise takes one of our most sensitive and vulnerable issues and turns it into a transparent, all-inclusive process. Here, all the money that the workshop had raised was collected (as numbers on a big sheet) and everyone allocated it. When I first heard this, everything I had been told about how people are with money, all the myths of Homo Economicus, came rushing forward to assure me this was a terrible idea, a disaster in the making. And that didn't happen. Instead, we saw a very fast balancing take place, something you might imagine taking months using typical budget meetings. And as far as I could see, all the needs and issues around money were addressed equitably with the funds available.

Here's how it works:
  • It's a dynamic allocation system. Nothing is final, however things usually settle down.
  • Each person is an actor/agent whose goal is to help achieve equilibrium. You can think of yourself as an independent processor running a balancing algorithm. Wherever you see an imbalance, you try to correct it.
  • There are two (separate) activities:
    1. Add resources to the pile.
    2. Push resources to an allocation.
For #1, in our case there was a sliding scale for the workshop fee. I had paid somewhere in the middle of this scale, but during the exercise I added enough to bring it up to the same price as the Winter Tech Forum because I felt it was at least as valuable. In a more complex configuration, I think resources could also be added in the form of hours of time worked, materials, or equipment.

For #2, the resources come from the main pile, but they could also be taken from an existing allocation. This allows reallocation as necessary. Thus, some money might be pushed to house expenses (for example), then later some of that house expense money might be reallocated for something else.

It doesn't matter who does the allocation; if you do it you are simply an agent attempting to balance the system by your action. If the system feels out of balance, you perform an action you think might help balance it. Collectively, we move toward a place where the system becomes "balanced enough."

Yes, you can be the agent that allocates resources to yourself. This brings up important emotional issues for people, especially acknowledging their own value. At the same time, total transparency ensures this is value proportional to our resources.

The story attached to the resource consumer IS important. We had people who did extra work and also those with special needs. Sometimes the story was told by the resource consumer, sometimes it was told by others. The kitchen and house got allocations, even the cat was given a small amount for its contribution. The fact that we were allocating the actual money raised for the conference made the exercise extremely real.

The goal is to reach an equilibrium. This is not a permanent situation, but instead a metastable state. Things will happen in the future that require further adjustment.

This is not a consensus process, but like Holacracy/Sociocracy, a set of experiments with an objections process. In this case, objections are not voiced but simply acted upon directly by adding or allocating resources.

Technically there's also a third activity although it doesn't happen during the balancing process—taking resources out of the system. If you are a resource consumer (either an individual person or a representative of a subsystem, such as groceries for lunch in this case) you can choose to pull resources out once things are balanced (acknowledging that the system is subject to later rebalancing).

I was quite skeptical at first. But then I saw it happen, and even though everyone was just learning how it works, the system balanced, and remarkably quickly. This seems like it could be one of the fastest ways to allocate resources.

It had a similar feel to me as when I started using Open Spaces—that it couldn't possibly work. Then I saw it work very well and started coming up with ideas about why that happened. Thus, it's probably best learned as a practice-before-theory experience.

Notice how it mirrors the Teal "advice process." In this case you don't ask for advice ahead of time, but what you are doing is in public and can be adjusted, in this case by other agents rather than just yourself. Each action is an experiment to see whether it moves us closer to balance.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


My own experience with cohousing, along with the Holacracy training and learning about Teal Organizations has reinforced my anti-consensus bias. But there are folks at this week's workshop who actively practice consensus-building using tested techniques, and that — along with observing the group of people living together in the house we are using as a venue — started me wondering.

In particular, I began realizing that, regardless of how flexible and experiment-oriented a system is, all systems contain some kind of foundational cornerstones. These are not up for debate. You either buy in (a kind of consensus, I suppose) or you go elsewhere. You can amend the U.S. Constitution, for example, but the core cannot be changed. The cornerstones of Teal Organizations are self-management, wholeness, and evolutionary purpose. The basis of a Red Organization is "anything the gang leader wants." Industrial-age organizations replace "gang leader" with "management hierarchy," and make a pretense of mission statements and we're-all-in-this-together-ness, but management can always change the rules, bend them, or break them, anytime it wants (and is it any wonder there's so much desperation to hang onto that structure? The alternative is — somehow — dealing with all the messiness of actual people instead of the simplicity and neatness of management-school theories).

Now my question is what are the different ways we discover/achieve those cornerstones? Do I just say "here are the cornerstones, trust me, I know what I'm doing, build from there?" That's more or less what we've done with the Winter Tech Forum by basing the conference on Open Spaces as a cornerstone and letting everything else flow organically from that. I've heard at least one other example to that effect. You choose to join or not based on the foundational principles. This also sounds a bit like open-source: someone starts a project, and if you like how it seems to be, you join. But I also wonder if people have tried creating foundational cornerstones in other ways, and what experiences they had if they did.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Company Rules

My friend JD Hildebrandt responded to yesterday's post. We knew each other from the early days of computer tech magazine publishing and conferences.

Hi Bruce.

Just read and enjoyed the latest Reinventing Business post.

Oakley Publishing was a lab for me. After Bobbi and I bought it, we had a chance to try out every theory and hunch and commitment about how companies should run and magazines should be...all the good ideas that had been stifled during the decades we had worked for others.

We talked about rules. We had both felt constricted by them in the past. We knew that most of the places we'd worked and lived had too many rules and that the rules left people feeling estranged and frustrated and apathetic. And one day while brainstorming I happened to murmur what I now consider a key truth:

The purpose of rules is to prevent thinking.

That's not just a side-effect of rules. It is literally the purpose of rules.

That sounds like a condemnation of rules, but it's not. Sometimes you do want to squelch thinking. If a fire breaks out, you don't want to call a staff meeting and hold a round of brainstorming about how to respond. You follow the rule that says get the hell out of there. Don't think - move.

In every situation governed by rules, there was once an opportunity to think and debate and weigh evidence and decide what was best. In every situation, people with authority decided that thinking was unnecessary, that there was always one right thing to do.

Over time, rules accumulate in layers. (Business is good at making rules but there is no process in place for evaluating and repealing them on an ongoing basis.) The result is that our workplaces are choked with rules governing every possible situation. Although no one has said to us what the purpose of rules is, in our guts we know it: Don't think. Your creativity and perspective and insights are of no value to us. Your personhood is of no value to us. Just follow the rules.

We created an employee manual at Oakley Publishing. We tried to make it informative and not prescriptive, and although I no longer have a copy, I think we succeeded. We included a page that said something like this:


Experts say that no employee manual is complete without a section on rules. We appealed, but the experts were adamant, as experts often are. Here, then, is the set of rules we expect you to follow during your employment at Oakley Publishing Co.:

    a. Follow your own best judgment at all times.

We hired you because we believe you have the skills and aptitude to make a contribution here. We trained you so you would have the knowledge to make informed decisions. So make them.

That was the complete section.

We added some rules along the way. If I remember right, they were about when to water the office plants (Friday afternoons) and how to shut down the computers, turn off the lights, and lock up the office if you were the last one leaving. Beyond that, we found that employees' best judgment was not only sufficient, but almost always led to better results than we would have got if they had followed the rules we might have put in place in a different kind of company. We explicitly invited people to think. They could see that their thoughts were both objectively valuable and valued by us "managers." So they were engaged, involved, committed, and joyful at work more often than not.

It was a really special time.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Prefer Experiments to Rules

One of the most astounding experiences of this workshop is the amount of experimentation within this community — not just the NVC workshop community but the folks they are connected with here in Portland. The workshop itself is being held in a house where 5 people have formed an intentional community. However, they create enough space (by not having much stuff) that we hold open spaces sessions in nearly all the rooms in the house. During the Winter Tech Forum I sometimes have quite a few people in my house, but this goes much further.

The house group is intriguing, because I lived in an intentional community (Emeryville Cohousing). We had a lot more elbow room — and it still didn't work for me. As different as it might have seemed, it became a stultifying atmosphere because of the attempt to use rules to relieve the inevitable frictions that arise.

This is an understandable strategy. We've been taught from birth that it is essential to follow the rules, and that these rules are the foundation of a safe and civilized society. We have systems to deal with rule-breakers, often harshly. The answer to any failings or holes in the system is obvious: More rules.

My perception of the extended community I am experiencing this week is that they are more about experimentation than anything I've ever witnessed or even considered. I don't know how they came to this but it's as if they all said:
Yes, we know that a proper sociological experiment requires double blinds and doing as much as possible to vary only one thing at a time. But even with all that, the results are still questionable. And besides, it all takes too long. So we are just going to do as many experiments as we can, piled on top of each other, and see what happens.
This sounds like chaos. And as I and others have observed, if you're doing it right, a significant portion of your experiments should fail. Our training tells us that, to keep things from flying apart in the face of all those failures, we need to double down on the rules. And yet that doesn't seem like what I'm seeing here. By knowing they can skillfully handle the fallout from failed experiments, they're bolder in the number and quality of their experiments.

When I was (not that much) younger, I felt suffocated by rules. As was my pattern, I decided that rules themselves were bad and I wanted to be free of them all. As I began experiencing Open Spaces conferences — which at first seemed like they could not work, because there weren't enough rules — I saw how well they worked. Not exempt from rules, but with only a few; just the right rules. And probably because the intent of the conference rules are to promote interactions rather than to control people. To enrich experience, not constrain it.

I think the reason this extended community is able to experiment so much is that they re-evaluated the foundation of friction and decided that the way to deal with this friction is not to try "ruling it out of existence," but rather to deal with the friction at its root. I've avoided this myself because it has always sounded just too messy and difficult, and rules just seem like such a simple and straightforward solution. We seem to cling to things that don't work because we can't imagine alternatives.

The alternative to rules seems daunting, because everyone has emotional buttons that get pushed, and everyone's buttons are different. When these buttons get pushed, you get friction. What the rule approach says is "let's never push anyone's buttons, then we'll have no friction." A wonderful hypothesis — it just never seems to work out in practice.

Here's an alternative. We acknowledge that, no matter how many rules there are, people's buttons will always get pushed, in ways we can never imagine or make rules for. And we figure out a process for dealing with the aftermath of someone's buttons being pushed.

This doesn't mean there are no rules, but it does change the intent of the rules. It also gives us some breathing room to think about, for example, how many rules a human can hold in their head, and the effect of a particular rule, how well it works with other rules, and the emotional environment created by our (ideally small) set of rules. Instead of rule accretion, we can focus on rule engineering.

Open Spaces has a tiny number of rules, but each is foundational to the experience. They're easy to remember, and all support a common theme. Teal organizations have three pillars (Self-Organization, Wholeness, Evolutionary Purpose), all of which support the discovery of the highest value creation of the organization.

Rules are so critical that they should barely exist, as part of the air. Most importantly, they should not impede experimentation. The only legitimate objection that prevents experimentation is one that — through evidence — shows that the experiment will harm us or move us backward (this came from the Holacracy training and Sociocracy).

Some of the experiments I've observed here:

  • The group living situation of the house in which we are holding the workshop, and the ability for house members to work within those constraints. I could not see this working in the cohousing community I experienced, and as a result I limited the way that I thought about the possibilities. By basing their interactions on practicing NVC principles, the housemates can handle far more issues than the usual roommate situations, where conflicts simply cause everyone to retreat into their respective worlds.
  • They cook and serve lunch in the kitchen (at least partly through work exchange with some participants, in exchange for discounts), and get participant help in cleaning up and in keeping the space in order.
  • Using NVC practices to accept requests about adjusting aspects of the conference. This seems to welcome even small requests (those little things that can make a big difference), and also allows quick development and resolution. This speed is very important lest we get lost in conference-tuning.
  • The use of Open Spaces within the workshop, and the ready morphing of the format (spreading it out, adding longer gaps and explicit times for recovery).
  • Someone appeared briefly (not a workshop participant) who lived in a paired men's and women's house. The women predominantly lived in the women's house and the men in the men's house. Although partnered or married couples would sleep together, they would have their gender-specific house to live within, thus being able to balance needs for "male energy" and "female energy." I recall one or two of my relationships where the woman, in particular, might have benefited a lot from this.
  • My own relatively small experiment in staying at an AirBnB (conveniently recommended by a conference organizer) and sometimes using Uber to get around; I've never really explored either one of these and they feel like they open up a lot of possibilities.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Compassionate Communication Workshop

This week, I'm in Portland Oregon, taking a workshop called BE THE CHANGE: A Living Prototype in Co-Creating a World that Works for All.

I ended up here because Teal Organizations have no bosses, so when two associates disagree, there is no father figure to come in and sort things out. Thus, the organization needs structure that not only supports communication, but also provides tools to resolve mis-communication. It seems that most existing Teal organizations use either conflict-resolution techniques, or nonviolent communication (NVC) practices. During most of my life I've been someone who avoids conflict, but during the research described in this blog I've had numerous people ask for help and in a number of situations that help meant conflict resolution (to which I demurred). As I learned that some kind of practice is necessary for self-organization, I decided it was time to put on my waders and enter difficult waters.

I found a weekend training workshop at Esalen, my go-to for this kind of thing, but I was unable to get in. Web searching produced the much-longer and more in-depth Portland workshop. This is filled with very experienced NVC people, so it wasn't created as an introduction, and for me it has become a "practice before theory" experience. I get to see skilled people model the behavior in difficult situations--which is when it matters most. They get flustered and then I see them guide themselves into this nonviolent place, and everything about the interaction becomes peaceful. It's quite something to witness.

I'm told that the best introduction is this book by Marshall Rosenberg, whose Wikipedia page credits as the inventor of Nonviolent Communication, although I've heard that folks like Mahatma Gandhi and the psychologist Carl Rogers also deserve credit.

Notice that the workshop is under the umbrella of "Northwest Compassionate Communication." This, I think, acknowledges the unconscious mind's inability to deal with negatives; that is, if you say NON-violent communication, it just hears "violent communication" and so is counterproductive.

Here is a summary of the practice in a single page. Essentially, you stay conscious that you are telling a story you have made up in your own head. It often helps to say "the story I have made up about that is..." Then you focus on making "I" statements, explaining your own experience and feelings about that experience and staying aware that you are describing things that happened in your mind, without asserting that they have any objective truth in the world. It is especially important that you do not put intention on things that happen outside your head, as in "you were trying to..." The ideal communication is one that says "I had this experience and had these feelings about it." If you do this skillfully, no one can argue with your statements, because it is all about your own experience and makes no assumptions about other's experiences.

The other important NVC practice is making requests. I find this one challenging because a request is something that you want, which means at least some degree of "attachment to outcome." However, it's very important that the answer to a request can be "no." Indeed, some coach requesters to say "I have a request, and the answer can be yes, no, a modification, or a different request."

One delightful aspect of the workshop is that there are a fair number of people here who have read Reinventing Organizations and so I have had some interesting conversations and sessions, one of which was around creating a conference to support starting new Teal organizations.

We still have three full days to go in the workshop, but in the meantime I have captured some notes:
  • Sociocracy is a predecessor of Holacracy. I think I knew this but had forgotten.
  • Reinventing Organizations colors come from Ken Wilber’s reframing of Spiral Dynamics
  • Trying to read Ken Wilber can be overwhelming. A good introduction is The Essential Ken Wilber.
  • Video about self-organization and lean practices in the NYC food bank.
  • I had a possible insight on how to describe Teal/Trust Organizations. In an industrial-age hierarchy, workers conform to the organization. A Trust Organization conforms to its colleagues.
  • Proaction cafe
  • Communication is willingness to be influenced
  • TheBrain, a recommended mind-mapping tool.
  • Restorative circles
  • A gift economy is actually a Trust economy
  • Not just opportunity for ease but opportunity for challenge
  • Consensus is rule by the most fearful person in the group
  • Power with vs power over
  • Compassionate communication Internet feedback system
  • Floor map of steps and options
  • FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out (Often happens with open spaces, when there are just too many good things going on at once. Not the worst problem you can have).
  • is a group decision-making support website.
  • Kanbanflow. I have mixed feelings about what's happened with Kanban, but this looks like a nice implementation, partly because it includes a built-in Pomodoro timer.
The workshop goes through Sunday so I'm sure I'll have more to say.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Leadership Myth

(I'm still here. That other book is taking most of my bandwidth. I continue to hatch ideas here, but just not yet writing them down).

The leadership cult has bothered me for a long time. Anything with the word "leadership" in it is noisily slurped up by the management faithful. Which of course stimulates those who create and sell management cults into higher levels of productivity (which is where I've always suspected has been the only place where productivity actually increases). The whole thing smells.

NPR's Ted Radio Hour has a show titled Disruptive Leadership, which is really only about leadership as we've always thought of it: the leader possesses some magical knowledge and characteristics that the rest of us (being, apparently, made of lesser moral fiber) lack. These special diamonds have the ability to take the rest of us along with them to a world of success and riches. They must be sought out at all costs, and handed untold wealth and power when they are discovered.

A leader is the hero in a fairy tale. We've been taught from infancy that this hero is the best and only thing worth being. Anything less relegates you to one of the faceless sufferers of the story, the serfs, the red-shirts.

I think I shall call this thing a power leader. If that term sounds good to you, then you might be part of the problem.

In the NPR show, Sheryl Sandberg (CEO of Facebook and author of Lean In) tells how she was considered "too bossy" as a child, and points out that the boys are expected to be bossy. We shouldn't, she says, tell our girls that they're being too bossy. I found myself thinking that we shouldn't tell them that they're too anything, that there's much more potential if they could grow up to be themselves instead of what we decide they should be.

The unspoken assumption is that leadership is about bossiness, that being a leader means being a boss. The reason I haven't had a job, haven't been an employee for so many years is that I don't flourish in the boss-subordinate relationship. I don't think anyone does, and I think as a result our productivity (and happiness with our jobs) is only a fraction of what it could be.

My friend Esther Derby likes to say leadership is not tellership.

Another speaker interviewed on the NPR show had a different unspoken assumption, that you're not a leader unless people are following you. Why? Especially in the age of the internet, sometimes one is enough. Simon Sinek says leadership just means going first. I think in some cases it only takes one person to break the barrier and make it better for others--without creating followers.

The belief in the magical abilities of the power leader run deep, and are summed up not only in this Dilbert cartoon, but in the fervent desire of boards of directors to discover "our Steve Jobs." Only a few saw the Steve Jobs Movie (which I thought was great), but I know people who worked at Apple and his "management technique" primarily consisted of abusing those around him. If you're only interested in profits, that sounds acceptable. But it not only requires the right abuser (someone who is such an emotional mess that they can abuse and inspire you at the same time), but it's unsustainable. Miracles are miracles precisely because they never happen, which means they don't provide any repeatable evidence, which means they're magic. Once you believe in magic, there are no rules and, in your own mind, anything can happen (yes, I know at first blush this sounds like a wonderful thing, but when these things keep not happening and you keep believing anyway, there's a problem). Witness Apple now: although their brand was created by producing once-amazing products, the marketing people have convinced themselves (like most marketing people everywhere) that it's "all about the brand," and so it's not really that important that the company is no longer creating the products it did under Jobs. And of course the belief in branding seems to be working for them, but when this particular group of fans eventually realizes they've been tricked, we're going to see some serious ugliness.

Talking someone schooled in the fake science of management out of one of its most cherished beliefs is something I'm not equipped for. This article is for everyone else.

Here's a rather damning study: CEO effect on firm performance mostly due to chance.

MIT Technology Review digs fairly deep into Tech’s Enduring Great-Man Myth:
"The idea that particular individuals drive history has long been discredited. Yet it persists in the tech industry, obscuring some of the fundamental factors in innovation."
Harvard Business Review chimes in with Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?
"In my view, the main reason for the uneven management sex ratio is our inability to discern between confidence and competence. That is, because we (people in general) commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence, we are fooled into believing that men are better leaders than women. In other words, when it comes to leadership, the only advantage that men have over women (e.g., from Argentina to Norway and the USA to Japan) is the fact that manifestations of hubris — often masked as charisma or charm — are commonly mistaken for leadership potential, and that these occur much more frequently in men than in women."
He points out (despite, I observe, all the promises made by MBA programs, management consulting firms, and management books and seminars):
"In fact, most leaders — whether in politics or business — fail. That has always been the case: the majority of nations, companies, societies and organizations are poorly managed, as indicated by their longevity, revenues, and approval ratings, or by the effects they have on their citizens, employees, subordinates or members. Good leadership has always been the exception, not the norm."
And he even comes to my own question about Sandberg's conclusions:
"So it struck me as a little odd that so much of the recent debate over getting women to “lean in” has focused on getting them to adopt more of these dysfunctional leadership traits. Yes, these are the people we often choose as our leaders — but should they be?"
In his TED talk, The way we think about work is broken, and associated book, Why We Work, Barry Schwartz talks about the negative impacts of ideologies in the business world.

In her TED talk, Margaret Hefferman talks about simple experiments with chickens which imply that selecting for "leadership" could be extremely counterproductive. There's a further interview with her and others on the TED Radio Hour; search for "The Meaning of Work."

What can we do about all this? Right now, being a leader is an un-attainable goal, the reward at the end of the fairy tale that only the incredibly special person (that is, not you) can reach. (But you can! Take my special super-expensive leadership seminar and I'll sprinkle magic dust on you so that you, too, become one of these leaders! And if it doesn't work, it's not my fault, it's because you're doing it wrong.) Why waste your time pursuing something you'll never achieve? Might as well keep your head down and do what your boss tells you, and stop rocking the boat trying to be special. You need to be a team player.

We either need to decide that the old term is hopelessly polluted and come up with a new term, or re-take  the old term. Somehow recapture the meaning in such a way that it brings it back to the realm of everyone else. Of course, the industrial-age hierarchy fiercely resists this re-branding, because it's fundamentally based in the idea that your boss is better than you, so you should always do what he says; the power hierarchy is first and foremost about power. For us to "make everyone a leader" (not a boss, just going first), the structure has to change so that going first becomes a normal, natural thing to do. But if someone can prevent you from going first, if someone can say "no," it doesn't work. This is why, if you are going to create a company that is innovative at its roots, bosses have to be removed from the picture, so that everyone in the company has the ability to experiment without being blocked by a "superior." This is why a non-hierarchical, self-managed system isn't just an interesting idea -- it's essential to the age of innovation.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A "Reinventing Business" Presentation in Czech in 2014

Here is one of the last versions of the "Reinventing Business" presentation I gave before Reinventing Organizations jumped me forward in my understanding of this whole project.

This was given during the Geecon Conference in Prague in 2014. One thing it shows is the value of using big fonts on your slides, since the videographer could just point the camera at me and the screen and capture everything.

Reinventing Business during Geecon Prague, 2014

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ignore Everybody

Always good to be reminded of this -- especially appropriate for the ideas in this blog.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Problem with Salaries

Planet Money #647: Hard Work Is Irrelevant

I've visited Netflix a number of times, and this is a very interesting perspective that I haven't gotten before. Something just feels wrong about this way of doing things.

Not that a company should keep people that don't contribute, but they seem so tightly tied to roles, and if we don't need your role anymore or you aren't doing it as well as we think you should, out you go. Any accumulated wisdom you have about the company goes too. The fact that you know how the company works, well, we can just train someone else up. We will ignore all those costs and losses.

Both Holacracy and Teal organizations de-emphasize specific roles, and emphasize each person having multiple roles. If you have zero roles then your value to the company comes into question, because either no one wants you on their teams or you aren't trying to be on teams, either way you've moved into a no-person's zone (at Zappo's they call it "the beach" and if you're on the beach for two weeks, you're out).

I wonder if the problem is in the granularity: Netflix defines a single role and pays a salary for that role, so if you fall below the role-salary equation you are out. There is no room for people who might contribute value in a partial way but not the full-bore way, which in my mind means that they are losing out on a lot of possibility.

The more I think about salaries, the less I like them. They are usually pitched like "as long as you get your tasks done, it doesn't matter how much you work," but for some reason it seems like most salaried people end up working more hours and not less. It has the same smell as companies adopting unlimited vacation because they've discovered that people take less vacation.

I actually like getting paid for my time. I think the deal has always been that I'm selling some of my life to you. A salary feels like a way for you to cheat and get more of my life. And the expectations are big, so (just like unlimited vacation) if I start actually using the flexibility, I'm "not a team player." It seems to me that paying for time is both more honest and more freeing. If I'm no longer productive today, I should go do something else and not worry about it -- I don't do the hours and I don't get the pay, but I feel OK about that, not like I'm somehow cheating the company as is the case with a salary or unlimited vacation (yes, it requires that everyone live within their means so they have the choice of stopping work when it makes sense, but I personally consider living within your means a very good thing).

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Code of Conduct is a Pattern

Looking back, I think we will see this moment in history -- when the idea of a code of conduct began propagating -- as one of the turning points in the development of self-organized systems. "Of course!" we will say, "Without a code of conduct some people show up expecting to get away with anything. Naturally you get bad behavior." We will also see the futility of trying to add a code of conduct after the fact, once the community has already been established. Culture must be nurtured, and once it's set it seems very hard to change -- although it can easily be destroyed.

Just like the various open-source licenses and the different Creative Commons licenses, I expect we will eventually have a set of open-source codes of conduct to choose from, depending on needs. I suspect we will also see templates for the philosophy of the organization, for example The Zen of Python and what I've tried to do in The Trust Organization Manifesto.

One of the questions that comes up around Teal/Trust organizations is "how do people get fired?" At least part of the answer is that a fireable offense is one that violates our basic practices for how we interact with each other -- our code of conduct.

I've begun collecting a list of sample codes-of-conduct here.

Thursday, July 30, 2015


Monday I visited Metolius Engineering in Bend, Oregon, which makes rock-climbing equipment. They are rather unusual in that they take in aluminum alloy stock and machine it from start to finish, then assemble things like cams to insert into rock cracks. I would describe Metolius as an "intentional anarchy." Basically, no one wants to be anyone else's boss, which produces a self-organizing structure by default. Almost everyone who works there is a climber and so cares deeply about their products. But there's no particular structure for you to fit into, so you either find your own level or you leave. For the people who are there (that is, who don't leave), it seems to work quite well.

I have a friend who created an UN-intentional anarchy by bringing together a group of artists under one space. There were expectations but the self-organization never really took place and my friend ended up being the enforcer and the place the buck stopped. It drove her temporarily bonkers and ended up costing her a lot of money.

Just like open-spaces conferences, you need SOME kind of framework to work within. Ideally it:
  1. Is the minimum necessary to achieve your goals
  2. Doesn't tend to start expanding
  3. Doesn't add unnecessary overhead
Many startups begin this way, but then reach a point where, it is asserted by those-in-the-know, the company must grow up and put in a proper hierarchy, with MBAs in all the right places. At which point the above three points rapidly stop working, and everyone gets less efficient as the company gets bigger (vs. cities, where people get more efficient as the city gets bigger).

The framework needs to be such that there never comes a need for the "grown up" organizational structure.

My OSCON presentation went well; there was some good discussion afterwards and some interesting connections. For example, I found out that RedHat is working on The Open Organization, a system with similar goals.