Welcome to the second article in 'A Biggish Idea'.
If you haven't read 'A Biggish Idea' already, feel free to go there if you'd like an executive primer of sorts. It's highly advised and a somewhat entertaining read as a bonus!
In this article, we lay the foundation for our nonevil plan, which is to create a whole BUNCH of better civilizations inside the abusively powerful shell of a multinational corporation and then recruit all of our favorite people into something better than citizenship.
(see, that's why I mentioned the primer thing)
To be fair to all other possibilities. . . I'm not sure that a corporation's the best way to do this. I'm pretty sure it'd be possible inside a religion or governmental institution and if I had my way we'd do some sort of hybrid approach . . . but this is complicated enough and I went with what I know. I may have also gotten lucky, I will cheerfully take full credit for it if that turns out to be the case.
As luck would have it (Whoa!) there are several corporate entities that give us the first piece of what we need. . . our DynAmo of Merciless Productivity(tm). Each of them has a few of the pieces we're using in play (the Venn diagram looks a bit like a Spirograph(tm for reals). We're going to focus on three.
The first is Valve.
Valve is a company that makes video game software that they distribute via a service known as Steam. They're a very competent player in the game industry and they've recently been branching out in quite a few clever ways. A while back their employee handbook leaked and more than a few very awesome people got pretty excited about it. . and for good reason.
Part of their success is due to a fairly uncommon (read: awesome!) management structure that some bitter part of me still thinks is too crazy good to be true even though science and years of experience knows it is.
They do quite a few things, but let's zero in on a few.
- They start with a fair attempt at comfortable salaries that only increase to a few times that. They emphasize freedom, recognition, autonomy, the ability to enable projects instead.
- People choose their own projects, teammates, and even managers.
- They don't punish well intentioned failure but instead treat it as a growth opportunity and handle it as positively as is possible.
- They hire for a specific sort of employee that is self motivated, well rounded, handles stress positively, plays well with others, and generally is the sort of person who doesn't screw this sort of thing up.
- Their HR department pursues policies that focus on getting people alone time as needed (and a bit more so, they're a bit satirically aggressive about vacations).
This creates a nice little positive feedback loop.
Let's start with the fact that they limit their hiring to people who are generally fun to work with. When you're the sort of person who loves solving problems and doing amazing things when they get the chance (most humans, really) it's really great not to have to deal with a bunch of bureaucracy and asshats, is it?
No, no it is not. Similarly, it's kind of awesome when you're a little down yourself or you need a little help getting going and somebody thanks you for something you did or just does something that warms your heart.
They're even so crazy as to try to give you all the space you need when you're not up for being around people . . and it's not just for you. It's for everybody else.
It's not just a 'hugs and unicorns' thing. It's a productivity thing too.
Because they don't punish failure people bounce back more quickly and learn more from mistakes (we all make them, yes, also you) and without that fear people are braver when it comes to proposing and attempting new things . . . and when those risks pay off everybody is enriched.
You'd think that the salary thing would be a big deal... no real chance to be a millionaire after all... and it IS a big deal. After all, the sort of positive, enthusiastic people you want for this are really crappy at negotiating such things and will only bring it up if there's some family emergency. Other than that they just want to have fun and get things done (somewhat simplified, but you get what I mean). Removing the climb up the ladder helps us keep from ruining our best people by promoting them.
Meanwhile people choose their own teams to work with and pick projects they love they spend more time intrinsically motivated, which makes them more capable at any project that isn't better automated. . . and also at automating.
Dan Pink says it better than I ever could.
I'm not saying that we should use science to come up with a way to make people happy. I'm saying that we should make people happy because science indicates that makes them effective forces of productivity that nobody could compete with without making people happier.
Before we move on . . .let me point out one more thing about Valve. They're succeeding in a a field that requires paying a lot of attention to standards. Developing games is a complicated enterprise and the bigger they get the more crucial that becomes. This would probably be the last place most people would expect such a 'Wild West with Ponies' type solution to work. It does. That's very helpful of them to be that example.
Now let's talk about Mondragon.
Mondragon isn't here in America. It's in Spain. I hear they speak Mexican there, so that's probably why most of us here haven't heard of them.
They actually happen to be the world's largest worker co-operative, and they share a lot of things with Valve. Gabe Newell has probably heard of them. So we won't get into those. In fact, one of the biggest reasons I bring them up is because they apply a similar set of methods in a different set of industries (Finance, Retail, Industrial, and Education) to great success, economically and socially.
They also are self governing. They have their own charters and rights and many of the same things you'd expect to see when somebody founds a nation. . .except inside a corporation.
No discussion of potentially-awesome corporations would be complete without Google. Google has their own social experiments (like the well known '20% time') but we're bringing them into the picture for the production, technology, and sheer moxie.
You've heard of them, right?
Let's pull in some things that they add to the mix.
They make amazing places to live and work, and they make amazing toys to play with. I won't go into huge details about the bevy of options here (because of the internet) but I will use them to emphasize something.
It's possible to create virtual cities within a corporation, and that city can be full of gigabit internet and the latest toys to play with.
And a corporation isn't some fragile little flower that can only flourish if no government or other entity is looking their way. Corporations are abusively powerful, which means they can protect people. They can let them run all KINDS of little experiments that you can't band together to do otherwise.
We'll stop there for now (there will be some updates, of course). . . but this is a good ending point, I think.
Does this seem about right for a takeaway?
It's possible to create an economically viable entity that's completely filled with people who agree to a higher set of standards and gets a significant competitive advantage out of providing the workers with amazing lives.
That entity can include many of the features one normally includes associates with governance, including a multitude of basic needs. Doing this in ways that reduces inconvenience and hardship for the employees is beneficial because it increases their productivity.
It works best if it's really fun.
Next : Supply Chain Manglement