February 12th, 2009
I’ve almost always been frustrated with our traditional expectations of how work and corporate jobs should function (even when I was the CEO of my own company). Back in the summer of 2006 I wrote down some different thoughts around my frustrations. These trains of thought helped crystallize PebbleStorm (“make money through enjoyment”) and PebbleStorm: CEOFlow (“grow revenue through enjoyment”). These thoughts started me down the path of wondering “how could I create environments without these frustrations?”
By the way, about PebbleStorm: CEOFlow… imagine you’ve already created your dream business and are making money through enjoyment. You’re about to be an accidental CEO with a whole new set of issues, employees and partners to deal with…fun fun fun ☺. CEOs have special needs. The intention behind CEOFlow is to help you continue to evolve and grow your business, but without losing your enjoyment of it.
Here are the original (almost unchanged) notes from 2006 that I wrote to myself…
Why can’t we take the work out of work?
A few people live their dream – why can’t more? I don’t buy it when people assume intelligence or drive is what’s needed for success. Why are so many people, including lots of very innovative, smart and ambitious people, trapped in the rat race? Example: the NYT article on “In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich”
Why can work be so unpleasant? When it’s bad…
Yes, a great manager can be an amazing mentor and coach….but all too often manager-employee relationships often feel more like parent-child relationships, and put too much artificial power into people’s hands. Why do so many workplaces not only tolerate, but promote controlling managers?
Working all the time in a corporate environment just feels so unproductive (not to confuse activity with productivity). There’s so much work for so few results, in the scheme of someone’s life. You’re trapped there in “face-time” (as opposed to space-time ☺)…waiting for other people to get back to you…producing lots of ‘stuff’ to look good just because your manager’s manager’s manager asked for it…”Um, about that TPS report…” Back to the trusty 80/20 rule: 20% of the time people can be productive, 80% of the time they’re doing things that don’t really affect the company’s bottom line or their own happiness.
As a rule of thumb, the nature of a corporate hierarchy structurally creates conditions for fear, wasted time and politics. With a limited number of slots available to people, everyone competes for them. This is often made worse by CEOs who want to see competition between their people, thinking it will bring out their best, when really it just helps create an environment of fear and control.
The past strategy of economies of scale might have been beneficial, but what about the benefits of leverage and nimbleness? Can’t a company increase its profitability and impact, without losing its soul or flexibility?
Innovation requires speed, thought, freedom and a lack of constraints – not resources, size or economies of scale.
I never felt like I could be completely productive whenever I wanted to be. In a single job, you always end up waiting around for things to happen or people to get back to you, which is non-value-added time. So people fill that time with busy work.
The classic hierarchy, while useful in organizing large groups of people, ends up creating unnatural “parent-child” relationships between managers and reports. Just like Zimbardo’s “prison guard-and-prisoner” experiment at Stanford, in which the students playing as guards starting abusing prisoners, managers frequently abuse employees without even realizing it. They’ve lost their context. CEOs can be the worst offenders, being the most out of touch.
Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. So how can you organize groups of people, without dangerously concentrating power? In the short-term, power gets things done. But over the long-term, it eats away at a culture.
In one job, you can only make incremental increases in productivity per year – it’s very rare that you can multiply your productivity or make big leaps.
Corporate structures inherently treat people as cogs in a machine, and this worsens as the organization gets bigger. Especially once the org is past 150 people, and people can’t know everyone well, employees tend to become names on spreadsheets.
People attached too much of their own self-worth to their titles. While titles can be helpful in the short-term in identifying someone’s function in a company and place in the pecking order…over the long-term titles end up putting people in boxes. People get defined by their title, and every person is much more than their title! It also creates a reward system in which people end up politicking just to get titles, when titles are used as part of the rewards system.
Most people are put into functional roles/groups that focus on a particular area: sales, marketing, development, etc. Sometimes people are happy with this (for awhile). Oftentimes, people end up being frustrated because they get blocked when they’re ready to make a move to another role or try something new to expand their experiences. Companies don’t like it when people move from one function to another – it’s ‘too risky’. “You’ve been doing sales here for 5 years, what makes you think you can do product management or marketing?”
Biggest bottlenecks in business? Why is work so unproductive?
Lack of trust creates long sales cycles, complicated contracts, dysfunctional corporate cultures, politics, hoops to jump through both inside a company and between companies.
Carrying costs: you rent space, hire a bunch of people and invest in all kinds of fixed costs…creating beast you have to feed. Work and growth become and obligation, not a choice. Now you gotta feed the beast!
“Selling” is incredibly inefficient compared to “attracting” through word-of-mouth. Also, selling is just a pain in the ass. Most business owners don’t like to sell, and most salespeople aren’t very good at it (and don’t like it either). It’s just a paycheck to them.
Contracts: most contracts, and the bulk of what’s in contracts, are crap. Yes, you have to have them in this legally paranoid world, but is there a way to recreate a system in which you don’t need 80% of this stuff?
Lack of trust & integrity is what causes the bottlenecks, waste and frustration in business. It’s why we need selling, HR, contracts…
Is there a way to bring trust and integrity back to business?
Yep. That’s my intention here, even if we might have to start from scratch in a bunch of areas. Shortly after I wrote these notes down (and processed a few other things), I came up with PebbleStorm and its mission.