I should probably have a catchier title for this, but I’ve been reading about these I guess as a way to better understand my own organization and came across three articles that I think speak to the difficulty of understanding organizational cultures. I’m trying hard to not simply read what reinforces my own way of thinking, but I’m not sure that I’m all that clear about how I think about these things as well…
I’m drawn, I think, because I work in what can be considered a knowledge industry, and I’m fascinated by another knowledge industry, games. I’ve been playing a bit of Jotun, and the care that the developers of that game took for an ecosystem that isn’t all that far from other slash-and-dash games amazes me. I’ve read a bit about their development procedure (their developer’s blog is as close as I’ve come to finding any sort of game guide), and this seems to be a game done for the love of the creative process and the art (and the story, and the coding, and the process of creating the art, and the…well, you get it). What, then, drives folks to do this, and who agrees to work with them, and what sorts of cultures do they develop?
As I look at organizational cultures I see a binary developing. At one end is Amazon, a culture that is described as ‘bruising’ in the article I linked to, one in which adults are seen weeping at their desks and their CEO (Jeff Bezos) seems to delight in relentlessly proving that he’s the smartest guy in the room. The tales are becoming legion at this point, ranging from the culture for white collar workers to the way the company treats seasonal employees who are retired and working to supplement meager social security checks. The company seems to take pride in how contentious the organization is, and how unstable it feels to those who work there (unstable in the sense that their jobs – not the company – can end at any time).
On the other side seems to a place like Zappos, which as the article I’ve linked to notes are actively trying to destroy the idea that companies have to run on organizational models like those of Amazon. Zappos has made the CEO Tony Hsieh a lot of money, but it is trying to redo corporate structures in ways that are interesting and fun and enjoyable. Food is free, (a practice I witnessed at EDS in the late 80s), there are no managers, and employees are encouraged to develop personal relationships with their customers by sending them thank you cards and birthday wishes. The organization is devoted to helping people develop a meaningful relationship with their work in order to have what the company calls life-work interaction.
As I’ll discuss in future posts, Zappos looks like Eggers’s Circle, while Amazon looks like a Randian paradise.