The Ultimate Corporation

April 29, 2008

The Ultimate Corporation is one that reinforces my excitement and happiness. I want to wake up in the morning turned on. No snooze button or other foot-dragging. What are the characteristics of a corporation that is not simply good, but great to work at?

Characteristic 1 (Foster community, avoid faction and alienation):

This is achieved through limited population. Many companies confuse growth with development. This results in bloat that eventually murders a company. I’ve thought over different optimal maximums for limiting growth which I’ve written about here and here. I think the number is somewhere below 150. And my current attitude is to let employees decide where that number lies under that maximum. Growth beyond this number necessitates a new business division to be physically isolated and separately run from the original seed company.

Characteristic 2 (Structure for creativity):

Have 20/80 splits of time on the hourly, weekly, and yearly scales. This means 20% of a person’s time every day is allotted to their own initiative. One day of their work week is exclusively for their own projects. Two months out of the year, they leave and are payed double their salary. Half of that goes to them, and the other is invested in a company idea of their choice. Those two months aren’t enough time to start a company, but they are enough to get the ball rolling, and to see if the project fails or succeeds. If it fails, they return. If it succeeds, we either spin them off into a new company or if it makes sense, absorb the project into the main body.

Characteristic 3 (Create trust through transparency):

Everyone’s wages are transparent to everyone else in the company. If someone isn’t pulling their weight and getting payed a lot, then it becomes obvious they should decrease their pay, or be fired. If the CEO is getting payed one thousand times what the janitor earns, then it is obvious that something is wrong (Or maybe the CEO is generating a billion dollars in revenue single-handedly, and is justified, however unlikely, in such pay).

Characteristic 4 (Acknowledge dynamic rhythms)

Let people get to work when they want and leave when they want, as constrained by the necessity of synchronous times for socialization and laboring. Employees decide this for themselves. Moderated by an appreciation for safety, this incentivizes speedy work, thus reducing costs.

Characteristic 5 (Profit is health, so make sure everyone knows it)

Employees get 33% of the profit the company makes. It’s harder to hire someone useless if you can see them eating your bonus.

Characteristic 6 (People work best under leaders they choose)

Employees elect their own bosses. Either from peers, or from outside the company. If the boss isn’t doing a good job, the employees oust him.

This article was inspired by many companies, including Gore Associates, Semco, Google, and HP.

On a tangential note, I recently read the HP Way, and though the book’s forward has the occasional vacuous corporate speak, the rest of the book is quite good. I did not know that HP essentially started off boot-strapping, rather they started off with a general idea of how they wanted the corporation to be. What their values were. Of course they knew they would be heading in the electronics direction since they had both been students of radio technology, but it’s not like they had a specific product in mind. That approach, more than anything, is what inspired this post. After all, as a self-interested party, it is about what a company does for me, and a product is only part of that.

I go to an event called Super Happy Dev House. It’s an event for hackers to share their technical interests in a free-form semi-party environment. So you basically get a lot of people interchanging between conversation and typing on laptops.

A friend recently pondered about how to form a system to gather all of the secondary/summary data about attendees to facilitate intellectual pollination. As it is, the current SHDH is haphazard (though extremely fun). There is a wiki page where some attendees put their project interests. Sometimes there aren’t name tags.

My ideal hacker party system is one where acquiring information about people and preparation for introduction is implemented by a communication and location support system. When an attendee arrives, they get a name tag, positioning system, and walkie-talkie. Let’s say they are interested in hacking robots and they currently program in Python. They write this down in the system through a webpage. Or they temporarily bind a notification service such as Twitter or Facebook Alerts to their locater. No matter what publishing channel they use, they now have a way of entering asynchronous information into the system.

The other guests can go to a webpage that shows where everyone in the house is. When they click on a person’s icon, they see everything the user has published while at the party. There will also be a feed of notices created in the last fifteen minutes, so you could for instance see all the things people have been talking about or want to talk about.

Here is my ideal use case. I come to SHDH wanting to talk about robots. I input this into the system. Someone sees this and quickly gravitates to me to show me their robot. They talk to me about what programming languages I know. I put on my position feed that I know Ruby and C# fairly well. A friend contacts me on my walkie-talkie to ask me if they would join a Ruby conversation they are having. This behavior goes on throughout the night.

The potential for such a system and the new types of behavior it could foster would be amazing. It’s like being part of a group mind. Not to mention there would be a group memory, as the logs of the party would be saved. They could later be scraped for data to characterize each event. And all this knowledge would shape the next event. It would be glorious. A party that became an organism.

Persuading Strangers

April 8, 2008

So I have not written in a really long time. This reminds me of when I was writing and drawing a webcomic. It was a dark time in my life. I was really depressed, and the thing I wanted most desperately was meaningful human contact. The web comic was a way of cheering myself up. Generating jokes was like smashing flint together. I’d get sparks that gave me hope of starting a fire. The fire didn’t start until I got help and started psychotherapy, but that’s another story.

At one point, I was really imploring people to send me email about the comic. I constantly got pokes from friends who wanted to be in the comic, or wanted me to keep putting them in the comic, but I wanted to get messages from strangers. I wanted to have influenced someone so severely that they would reach out through the nether and take a moment of my time.

No strangers ever contacted me. The closest I got is when I was standing in line waiting for a movie, and a friend of a friend, who I didn’t know too well, started talking about my comic. I guess one of my friends had pointed my comic out to him, and he really enjoyed one of the strips. But he wasn’t aware that I was the author. I told him, and we had this great conversation until I disparaged Disneyland. (A warning folks, don’t every disparage Disneyland. Evidently it’s the happiest place on Earth. And there must be some ride that turns you into a Disney zealot that I didn’t ride.) Like I said, I was depressed at the time, so nothing seemed very appealing.

I have gotten stranger-input on some of my other projects, like this graph showing the consolidation of the aerospace industry. That was really cool. That generated three emails from strangers. Two were informational updates and additions to the graph, one of these was from Sweden. I love the interconnectedeness of the internet! The third, was from someone who had shown the graph to various people at work and then got in trouble with her coworker because the aerospace graph had a link back to my marginally not safe for work comic.

I guess the graph was so popular because it was more of a resource than anything else. I’ve noticed that resources go much farther than opinion or sentiment on the internet. My only programming post on this blog is about Ruby on Rails. It generates the majority of the visits to this blog because it gained enough Google rank. After the Ruby on Rails posts, I seem to get a lot of traffic on my meditation posts.

I am still very curious about how to persuade people to contact me out of the blue. Recently I stumbled onto this article on how to persuade people in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The author’s subjects of study were non-profits, but the lessons can be applied anywhere. I would recommend the article because the stories he tells to illustrate his conclusions hammer the point home quite well, but here are some of the main forces he sees at work in persuasion. I use my own examples to illustrate them.

1. Reciprocity: I make a graph of aerospace consolidation for everyone, for free. People who like the resource appreciate this, and contribute information I was missing.

2. Scarcity: I don’t have a good example of using the tactic of scarcity to promulgate something. Perhaps I should threaten to ban comments in my blog, to see if this prompts people to comment while they still can.

3. Authority: I attached the information the article on persuasion is from the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Prestige is a form of authority. Expertise, or at least its claim, can be used as an expedient because it is often less costly to follow rather than attain the expertise you could otherwise challenge.

4. Consistency: People line their actions up with their declarations and vice versa. Sometimes I find myself loathe to declare some course because I feel I won’t follow through, and then the discrepency pains me. That does show how strong the impulse is.