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.

At this Ad Hoc City site, I enter in: who I want to live by and how far from work I want to be. My friends and coworkers enter this in too.  The website spits out a place where we can all live by each other and where we can position our offices. It’s an ad hoc, made-for-community city.

Initially I wrote a huge defense of this idea of ad hoc community organization. I imagined how one would work it into the current world. But I don’t want to work it into the real world. It’s just too damn hard.

I just want this image: I type in my info, everyone else types theirs, we all move to the same place together and we experience no problems in finding work or leaving houses and what-not behind.

As I meet new people and some relationships fade, my geographic position moves. It gets cold where we are, we winter in some other location. Great geographic fluidity earned not by transportation speed, but by social flexibility.

LISO: Life In, Story Out

February 3, 2008

I’ve started a blog called LISO. The concept of the site is that if you send me some bits of information about yourself, I will write you a story in response. The stories go on the blog, not the information you send me.

http://lifeinstoryout.wordpress.com/

A New Type of Music Shop

January 19, 2008

After reading an article about music piracy I got to imagining what a really fantastic music store would be like.

I imagine a store with lots of low level couches that encourage people to face each other. In the middle of these couch clusters will be a station connected to a central server of music. You’ll be able to come with your own headset or use one of the store’s. Once plugged into the terminal you can set up your own list of music you want to listen to. You’ll be able to listen to this list in any of the stores. If you bring a friend, you can synchronize to the same music. The headsets will have mics, so that you can talk while listening to the music without worrying about disrupting people listening to other music, or necessitating a room.

The store makes money by selling USB sticks, drinks, maybe a tiny cover charge, and music. The music pricing will be based on how often the music is listened to in the stores. They’ll offer high quality non-drm mp3s that you can download to your usb stick. You get to pick the composition and format of the playlist that you buy.

When I was in gradeschool and highschool, I remember being so despondent about the lack of nice places to hang out. There were parties, but I didn’t drink. So a lot of the time in highschool, after I had eaten with my friends, we would just drive up and down El Camino in Mountain View. We had our hack to keep us sane, which was to the go to this LAN party/internet cafe. We’d play games there, but it had set-backs, like no girls and infrequent conversation.

I don’t know if I was the type of person who would have taken advantage of a music-house, like the one I’m imagining. Maybe there were a lot of hangouts that I ignored. But it still feels like there are a lack of enjoyable places that I should have been able to bike or be driven to. And I do think that the availability would have changed the way I socialized.

Maybe a music shop like this will never exist, but I think humanity could pull it off. Starbucks and Apple should team up to do this. Starbucks would manage the stores, and Apple would design them and make the technology for interacting with the music. However, the only way they would get music companies to buy in would be to set up an entirely mocked up store, and then get executives to come there. At this point, the polarization between the music industry and its customers has taken on too many of the blinding characteristics of warfare. The only way to convince people would be to show them.

All this prognosticating got me thinking about a lot of other store structures. For the most part, Starbucks is a hang-out like the one I’m thinking of. But they don’t encourage socialization with strangers, and everyone is listening to the same canned music. But they ARE a hang out. People will sit there for hours, and I see grade/high school kids come and chill for long periods of time.

So in any hang-out there is a medium along which socialization occurs. In a bar, the medium is alcohol. In the internet cafe, it was computer games. In community centers, it’s study areas and air-hockey. Each of them facilitate different atmospheres with less or more socialization, based on the medium adopted by the place. Recently there’s been a proliferation of Hooka lounges. Live music already has a venue, but I think recorded music has a place as a social stratum. And if managed properly, it can be the replacement for the currently waning cd store.

Of course, nothing is ever really destroyed. After all, people still buy and listen to vinyl records. But you have to be really blind and entrenched to believe you’ll never be displaced from the mainstream. It seems that one of the reasons there is so much contention about the use of music is due to a false polarity between people, generated by a myopia around specific issues. When we focus on people enjoying music, and the facilitators of that music getting payed, then there is no issue. The issue dissolves, rather than resolves.

Case #472

What to do when something someone says causes you to doubt what you are doing.

Example

You finish a webpage and ask a family member for feedback. They respond with a torrent of confusion and criticism. You spent hours on this and it made you feel awful that they are hanging onto easily fixed details. They don’t see the beauty of what you’ve done, and you start to doubt that beauty exists.

Response

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Remember that everyone around you is an idiot. No one gets your vision because you’re better than everyone else.
  3. Then after your ego has rubbed the wound for a bit, remember that your critic said that for a reason. Go and figure that reason out. Do some opportunity cost analysis to see if it’s worth fixing or if their criticism should be treated as anomalous.
  4. Then go and seek more criticism by being brave with the publicity of your ideas. Develop a large ego-callous until you don’t need steps 1 and 2.

Note: This is not actually from a real book. Although maybe if I can think up enough of these it might actually become one.

A Prototype of my New Site

November 6, 2007

I’ve released a prototype of my competition site. Here is the competition to name my site. You can win a book.

Please tell me what you think. It is obviously a work in progress.