First, Let's Get Rid Of All The Bosses
October 20, 2015 4:36 AM   Subscribe

Six months after we first discussed Zappo's planned move to a Holocracy, how is it going? When the deadline arrived on the last day of April, 14 percent of the company, 210 people, took the [severance] offer. Twenty of them were managers, I was told, out of a total of 246. It was a difficult day. Tear-stained faces replaced the typical smiles on the Zappos campus. posted by ellieBOA (185 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
Interesting link, thanks. That said:
Conventional job titles hardly exist, and top executives are referred to as “monkeys”; assistants, on the other hand, are “ninjas.”
No. Just... no.
posted by Justinian at 4:54 AM on October 20, 2015 [34 favorites]


Surely the ultimate test will be if they stay in business?
posted by Happy Dave at 4:55 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Zapponians, as the employees call one another, like to talk about “work-life integration” rather than work-life balance.

Nightmare fuel.
posted by tocts at 4:58 AM on October 20, 2015 [117 favorites]


reinventing organisations (which zappo employees were required to read, i think, and which gives some of the "philosophy" for this), is not bad. some of it is bullshit, but there's also a fair amount of useful and interesting info.

[self link to my review / notes]
posted by andrewcooke at 5:01 AM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I skimmed through the whole article growing more and more curious about what the hell this company actually does. It turns out that this is in fact mentioned in the third paragraph (they sell shoes, maybe everybody already knows that), but it appears to have curiously no relevance to why they're doing things in this way.

I felt like, I don't know, for some people it'd be OK to just know what your job is at the shoe place and do it for a while, be treated OK while you're doing it, and go home. I'm not sure it needs to be a cult.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:01 AM on October 20, 2015 [32 favorites]


Most of my working life has been in intensely hierarchical environments, which stem partly from tradition and more so from safety and efficiency. It would be interesting to work in a non-hierarchical (or at least much less so) environment at some point, but I don't know if I have the patience with process to do well at it.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:07 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anytime a business calls it's offices a "campus", I start to get worried.
posted by HuronBob at 5:08 AM on October 20, 2015 [40 favorites]


The trailer park gimmick sounds too much like the company towns of the bad old days. If they start paying in Beenz, the transformation will be complete.
posted by dr_dank at 5:09 AM on October 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


Rosemary was the first beachgoer to keep a journal, which is now a requirement of the Why Space. At a recent all-hands meeting, Williams asked Rosemary to read her journal in front of the entire company, to show people how hurt she'd been when her new Zappos friends had ostracized her after she was beached. After reading the journal, Rosemary was offered a new role right there onstage.
...
Everyone was so inspired by Rosemary's example, by the way she had “slain her dragon,” that the Why Space was rebranded as Hero's Journey—though as often happens at Zappos, with its frequent changes of nomenclature, Zapponians will probably always use the Beach, Why Space, and Hero's Journey interchangeably, thus giving new hires and visiting journalists even more to scratch their heads about. “Beachgoers” and “Why Spacers” are also now known as “Explorers.”


I would take the most top-down, authoritarian system imaginable over something as cultish as a workplace that sends workers who are less than 100% happy-clappy to 'The Beach' and makes them keep a journal.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 5:15 AM on October 20, 2015 [140 favorites]


This is a really long article so ctrl+f "badge" for when it gets really dystopian.
posted by griphus at 5:19 AM on October 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


I would take the most top-down, authoritarian system imaginable over something as cultish as a workplace that sends workers who are less than 100% happy-clappy to 'The Beach' and makes them keep a journal.

Seriously. It's like the Zappos guy read somebody's memoir of the Cultural Revolution and was like "gee, this would be a great idea if only we could monetize it....and get rid of that inconvenient commie angle, of course".

It's like the world has turned into a Neal Stevenson novel - somebody's got to find him and tell him to write something more cheerful going forward.
posted by Frowner at 5:21 AM on October 20, 2015 [34 favorites]


It seems like to me that Zappos is what happens when a start up actually succeeds but never loses the beer pong on a Friday mentality. Add on top of that, the type of people in their 20s that are attracted to web start-ups who were never forced to grow up (for better or worse) in addition to the constant party atmosphere and it's an interesting mix. Some part of this though reminds me of the cocaine filled wall-street of the 80s where strippers, money, and access were the norm. Should be interesting if they stick around.
posted by lpcxa0 at 5:21 AM on October 20, 2015


Actually, no, it's like we lost any kind of left wing power, leaving corporate types free to demand the kind of total, immediate, soul-level obedience that you would expect in the stricter kind of medieval monastery. They really can't conceive of why anyone would like to have any kind of spiritual space left for anything outside their hobby/fetish/business.

Capitalism is expropriation all the way down - your land, your labor, and at this point, when land and labor have been seized, your actual interiority and personality.
posted by Frowner at 5:24 AM on October 20, 2015 [147 favorites]


Man this article is all over the place. Like we don't even get to "how is holocracy working" until about a third of the way through.

My biggest problem with holocracy isn't the twee quirkiness of the company - and I'd argue anyone pushing this forward as an actual point against it is derailing - but that there are already well-established models for workplace democracy and worker-controlled centers of production that work very well without the need for imbuing them with an almost religious belief in their functionality. Blind faith never leads to progress. It's a perversion of what solidarity organizing actual entails; not happy-smiley pressure to conform, but creating consensus out of people, like, disagreeing and constantly trying to improve things. The fact that someone in this thread has already said they would take "the most top-down, authoritarian system imaginable" over something like this, while maybe hyperbolic for the purpose of humor, shows how this kind of cupcake conformism is repugnant and dishonest. Fuck everything about this.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:24 AM on October 20, 2015 [51 favorites]


Then it all has to be approved by the People Pool & Comp circle. And who happens to be the lead link of that circle? “Now, instead of trying to convince your boss that you deserve more money,” said Murch, incredulously, “you have to convince Tony Hsieh.”

Of course Hsieh is still in charge of how much people earn because that's still where the power ultimately lies.
posted by PenDevil at 5:25 AM on October 20, 2015 [35 favorites]


"Dishonest', though, is the key. When people propose this kind of system, they don't actually want worker management. They want the pluses of worker management - greater buy-in, legitimizing greater intrusiveness in workers' lives and the ability to tell themselves a story about how 'democratic' they are - without the inconvenient possibility that the workers will do something truly in their own interest. That's why the twee quirkiness - the twee quirkiness exists precisely so that you don't start asking "why don't we work more like, say, that worker-managed tile factory in Argentina?" They're not separable.

And now I'll stop over-posting.
posted by Frowner at 5:29 AM on October 20, 2015 [148 favorites]


Also man the fucking beach. May as well be the cornfield.

It's real good you did that, Tony, real good!
posted by griphus at 5:31 AM on October 20, 2015 [64 favorites]


So the CEO unilaterally instructed everyone that there would be no more managers. Now they're going to follow a stultifyingly strict protocol to make their meetings nimble, effective, and fluid, and they purchased a license to a proprietary software product by which they implement their employee's new freedom to innovate.

Jesus.
posted by edheil at 5:36 AM on October 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


i'd moon these fuckers if I wasn't afraid they'd shove a glass frog up my ass.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:37 AM on October 20, 2015 [19 favorites]


So, uh, Amazon staff must actually be running the whole Zappos operation while these guys fuck around, right?
posted by odinsdream at 5:38 AM on October 20, 2015 [32 favorites]


Also this is criminally ridiculous.
posted by odinsdream at 5:39 AM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Wasn't there a post a while back about how good middle management is actually vital to a well-run company and to the interests of the workers? Something challenging the way "agile" software works? Anybody remember that one?
posted by edheil at 5:39 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Putting aside the "work-life integration" (good lord, has there ever been a more noxious bit of biz-speak?), I'd like to make the obligatory point for when discussing this kind of system:

Anyone who thinks they have an informal organization with no hierarchy is deluding themselves. In the absence of an overt, formal hierarchy, you inevitably end up with a secret, "informal" (but via social pressure formal) hierarchy. "Oh, I heard you were going to revamp the billing system. You're going to want to talk with Todd about that. I mean, nobody owns any projects or anything, but if you touch it without talking to him you may find yourself unable to get people to jump in on the project. Oh, Todd doesn't want it changed, and your other project requires this change? Well ..."
posted by tocts at 5:45 AM on October 20, 2015 [51 favorites]


It's a cult that sells shoes.
posted by tommasz at 5:48 AM on October 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Does Holacracy have E-meters?
posted by acb at 5:49 AM on October 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


You know, I tend to believe that the sandal-wearing corporate Hsiehs of the world are motivated by a more-or-less sincere desire to create a better workplace, and a better role in the world for their company.

The problem is, their bold new corporate society is inevitably designed as the ideal workplace for people like them. And the people who find themselves in a position to impose something like Holacracy are not the average worker. They often (usually) come from a privileged background. They are singularly passionate—indeed, wonkish—about business and capitalism and management, and tend to assume that everyone is (or should be) the same way. (It took years to convince the co-founder of my current company that, no, I don't read trendy management books, I don't know who the CEO of IBM is or what management doctrine they espouse, and I have spent exactly zero seconds in my entire life pontificating any company's mission statement. Which you'd think would be obvious, given that I'm a fuckin' web developer in a non-management role. I still don't think he quite understands.) They're extroverts. They have no qualms about intermingling their business line with their personal projects and commitments, because for them, their company (their company) is their personal project and commitment. For all their Burning Man posturing and New Age pontificating, they are fundamentally conservative—as evidenced by the fact that they're, you know, C-level executives.

And, of course, they have a profoundly vested financial interest in this vision of their company as a commune that everyone is happy to be at; where people don't mind working long hours or having meetings at 10 pm on Sunday night; where smooth functioning and the accompanying profits arise "organically", without all that pesky decision-making.

Please just fucking provide me with sane working conditions and a reliable paycheck. I am not interested in joining your intentional community.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:51 AM on October 20, 2015 [157 favorites]


Scrolling down their main twitter feed there's a marketing collaboration with Britney Spears and a significant Michael Korrs investment, and a sweet set of photos of young women of color adopting puppies at a company event. As tocts points out above it's unlikely the young women were the drivers of the Korrs contract or were flown in the amazon corporate jet to finalize financial details.
posted by sammyo at 5:52 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


But they're selling shoes online, I bet most of the company is at a cube farm doing very similar things and the idea that many managers are needed to keep the troops in line to get the orders filled and respond to tweets is also misplaced.
posted by sammyo at 5:55 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Anyone who thinks they have an informal organization with no hierarchy is deluding themselves. In the absence of an overt, formal hierarchy, you inevitably end up with a secret, "informal" (but via social pressure formal) hierarchy.

I hear this a lot, and my response is always to point out that formal hierarchies also have social pressure hierarchies. So if you have two workplaces - one in which there is a formal hierarchy and one that has a consensus-based structure - of course popularity contests and strong personalities are going to play a part in both instances, but at least in the latter, there are formal mechanisms in place for greater worker control, which is not something the formal hierarchy can claim. And that's if you don't even take into account mechanisms that counteract ego-tripping straw bosses. "Your system isn't absolutely flawless and therefore a failure" isn't a very compelling point when it's an improvement on the older models.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:55 AM on October 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


It's a cult that sells shoes.

am i sensing a tension?
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:56 AM on October 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


It struck me initially that holacracy at Zappos was in large part a fear of firing anyone, especially managers. I worked at a company that was passive-agressive about getting rid of problem workers and problem managers, and it really sucked sometimes. Switching to a system where people get "beached" formalizes a bad system, which is I guess how holacracy is supposed to work.
posted by muddgirl at 6:00 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I would take the most top-down, authoritarian system imaginable over something as cultish as a workplace that sends workers who are less than 100% happy-clappy to 'The Beach' and makes them keep a journal.

"Say what you will about Stalin, but he didn't make us write journals, anyway."
posted by Wolfdog at 6:04 AM on October 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


I hear this a lot, and my response is always to point out that formal hierarchies also have social pressure hierarchies.

Yes, but the key point is that they also have a formal hierarchy which you can work within to get things done. I'll take "there's some politics, but fundamentally there are official owners to various projects or responsibilities and official channels to work within to get things done" over "literally everything is politics" any day of the week.
posted by tocts at 6:07 AM on October 20, 2015 [22 favorites]


"Say what you will about Stalin, but he didn't make us write journals, anyway."

Well, not on yourself, no.
posted by griphus at 6:09 AM on October 20, 2015 [34 favorites]


I've done work with a very hierarchical and enormous company who also calls its pool of employees not currently attached to a client or project "the beach." And if you stay on the beach for a set period of time you get fired, BAM.
posted by Andrhia at 6:11 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


So, I'm assuming that a corporate culture this insane will inevitably crash and burn catastrophically, because navigating this craziness will constantly take away from accomplishing actual work, and capable people tired of the bullshit and informal politicking and newspeak will move to workplaces without all the woo.

But, I'd be curious to know what the chatter is among the rest of the tech community thinks. Are these folks pariah now? Is it clear that Tony has lost his mind?
posted by leotrotsky at 6:13 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Tyranny of Structurelessness is a good read on this sort of thing. One of the main points being exactly what tocts is saying — that a leadership structure you can see, discuss, understand, and teach people about is better than an unofficial and half-secret one whose existence you're supposed to deny.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:15 AM on October 20, 2015 [53 favorites]


The weird thing, though, is that this is, from the outside, a totally normal company. I have ordered shoes from Zappos assuming that they were terrible in the way that Amazon or Wal-mart are terrible, not having any clue that they were a much more exotic species of batshit crazy.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:17 AM on October 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


Anytime a business calls it's offices a "campus", I start to get worried.

It's legit to me if you have three or more buildings together and you control the land around them as well. See "The Museum Campus" in Chicago.
posted by eriko at 6:20 AM on October 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


The actual work of stocking the shoes and filling your order is now more or less done by Amazon-controlled warehouses. It sounds like even the website is migrating to an Amazon backend. Zappos handles marketing and customer service.
posted by muddgirl at 6:21 AM on October 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


I hate this movie (300), but the more stories I read like this, the more being a member of a union these days feels like this.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:21 AM on October 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


But, I'd be curious to know what the chatter is among the rest of the tech community thinks. Are these folks pariah now? Is it clear that Tony has lost his mind?

I tried to find what industry leaders Peter Thiel and Elon Musk think of this but they were too busy building an island to go Galt on and trying to terraform Mars with a-bombs to comment.
posted by griphus at 6:24 AM on October 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


The company I work for went through a phase of being deeply infatuated with everything that Zappos did and tried to be like them wherever they could, but luckily turned away from this horseshit before it got too woo-woo. The local management is still a little too fond of management-fad-of-the-week, though, so who konw what the next thing they'll foist on us will be, but at least for now they've held off going Full Moonie.
posted by briank at 6:25 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow. That's ... that's seriously fucked up right there.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:26 AM on October 20, 2015


Zappos' prices are too high anyway.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:28 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I tried to find what industry leaders Peter Thiel and Elon Musk think of this but they were too busy building an island to go Galt on and trying to terraform Mars with a-bombs to comment

Hey, everybody's got hobbies. No one else is dumb enough to let those hobbies disrupt the business that makes you money.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:29 AM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


The actual work of stocking the shoes and filling your order is now more or less done by Amazon-controlled warehouses. It sounds like even the website is migrating to an Amazon backend. Zappos handles marketing and customer service.

So the actual business more or less runs itself, leaving what few employees are still required captured free to cult around all day to entertain the CEO. Got it.

Notice too how all of this woo woo is only regarding the office environment, the "no bosses" or whatever the hell doesn't appear to extend to the actual ownership/profit structure. Revolution this is not.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:30 AM on October 20, 2015 [28 favorites]


Metafilter: I'd moon these fuckers if I wasn't afraid they'd shove a glass frog up my ass.
posted by TrialByMedia at 6:33 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Curious about how it's different from Valve's similar workplace hierarchy. There's a fundamental difference though, with their employees having much more of the company's stocks (CMIIW) than the average Zappos employees. I think Valve got a healthier workplace culture too (even if it's not for everyone). Does anyone here knows more about it?
posted by tirta-yana at 6:33 AM on October 20, 2015


I'll bet it's top down and authoritarian as fuck when you get down to it.
posted by Artw at 6:34 AM on October 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


To the best of my knowledge, actual employee owned companies tend towards a standard hierarchical structure. The ones where buy in is a good idea because, you know, you actually own (literally) part of your job. Can anyone who has worked for this type of company or knows more about it tell me if I'm wrong?
posted by Hactar at 6:35 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'll take "there's some politics, but fundamentally there are official owners to various projects or responsibilities and official channels to work within to get things done" over "literally everything is politics" any day of the week.

a leadership structure you can see, discuss, understand, and teach people about is better than an unofficial and half-secret one whose existence you're supposed to deny.


These are false choices that assume a) workers can ultimately call the shots in a top-down hierarchy and b) a all consensus-based systems are the same and have some shadowy cabal behind them.

But I remember this kind of corporate apologia from the last thread about this company so I'm going to assume our positions are intractable and agree to disagree on the functionality and fairness of pyramid management.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 6:37 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


“South by Southwest meets TED meets Burning Man,” he told me. “But as a lifestyle, not a festival.”

I'm going to be mining this hell-article for quotes for years.
posted by Artw at 6:37 AM on October 20, 2015 [63 favorites]


Rosemary was the first beachgoer to keep a journal, which is now a requirement of the Why Space. At a recent all-hands meeting, Williams asked Rosemary to read her journal in front of the entire company, to show people how hurt she'd been when her new Zappos friends had ostracized her after she was beached. After reading the journal, Rosemary was offered a new role right there onstage.

I've said it before here, but Zappos is example one of the logical conclusion of post-60s management theory's deep roots in est and other 70s "human potential" cults.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:39 AM on October 20, 2015 [19 favorites]


I am in favor of experimentation in systems. Systems are made up of people and should evolve around those people. I am always fascinated by how a system that is being changed deals with being part of a larger system that may not appreciate the change. In Zappos' case, their company system is a part of both Amazon and the Federal government.

In the article we get a little flavor for the pressures coming from Amazon: forced technological migration conflicting with the self-organization principle of their Holacracy. Employees can't truly self-organize on the work they want to do for the company when Zappos' corporate overlord has mandated an aspect of their company. Some group or groups of people in Zappos must work on the task that Amazon has given them, or risk the destruction of their newly-evolved system. So, I wonder how it feels to be told you can self-organize and yet, for the health of the company, many people must work on this technical challenge that's not immediately related to the work Zappos has styled for itself: selling shoes to customers over the internet.

In a similar vein, I wonder how the employees at Zappos are dealing with the pressures of the Federal government. Zappos cannot do certain things that the United States government has laws forbidding. So, their free-spirited, self-organizing groups of people are restricted in a very real sense by the existential threat that if they break laws the government will fine them (monetary loss damages the company) or shut them down. How does HR, one of the groups within a company that ends up dealing with legal issues, handle this new company system? Or better yet, who does the enforcing of rules inside the company that have real legal ramifications? In more "normal" companies, managers often find themselves in the role of enforcing rules on their subordinates that have been laid down by the lawyers of the company.

I'd love to sit in on a few of their meetings and shadow a few employees in some of the different "roles" and see some of this system experimentation for myself.
posted by Axle at 6:39 AM on October 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


This article was interesting enough as a lifestyle piece I guess, but I think it got away from Roger Hodge. It's frustrating to read something this long and have the author repeatedly throw up their arms and say they simply don't understand critical aspects of the system they're writing about. My two big questions were how is this holocracy thing structured and how does pay work now, and the article kind of answers the first one, in a meandering way, and totally punts on the second.

The tl;dr for this piece could have been: Zappos is doing some weird flat-org thing and some people seem confused and apprehensive but the hipster no work-life boundary people like it.

That's interesting, but not very insightful. I want to know how it works! Maybe that's less interesting journalism, I dunno.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:41 AM on October 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


Also the graphic that pops up on this holocracy homepage here seems like so much BS. "We don't have job descriptions! Those sound boring, we have 'roles' which are super fun and flexible." Yes job descriptions can be stifling or too narrowly defined, but that is a function of a poorly written job description, not a fault of the concept. And having a job description can be protective! I know I won't throw out my back being asked to move a filing cabinet because it's not in my job description. I don't have to prove I'm a "team player" by taking on responsibilities outside my expertise.
"We don't have office politics, we have clear transparent rules!" Oh my god, have none of these people ever worked anywhere? Office politics don't arise because there are hidden rules people don't understand, they arise because we're human beings. Ugh ugh ugh.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:49 AM on October 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


I really want to write a comprehensive takedown of "Holocracy" based on Jo Freeman's The Tyranny of Structurelessness and CS Lewis' The Inner Ring probably with some references to Hobbes' Leviathan, but this would involve reading a whole bunch of cringeworthy Holocracy tracts.
posted by Zarkonnen at 6:51 AM on October 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


So the actual business more or less runs itself, leaving what few employees are still required captured free to cult around all day to entertain the CEO. Got it.

Yeah. I can't believe they're not reading the writing on the wall. The whole point of Amazon mandating the Supercloud project is to get the IT systems into a place where Amazon can run them. Then, every single one of them is going to be laid off by Amazon. IT, CS, the whole thing. Because at that point, Amazon will control the website, the shipping, and has a customer service department. The people at Zappos simply won't need to exist, they will be a drag on profit, and Amazon handles that ruthlessly.

If they don't make the deadline, then the Zappos CEO will be tossed, a new CEO will come in, and this Teal stuff will die in one single day, and Amazon IT will come in and finish the project.

The idea that "Green" organizations are vulnerable to losing the the CEO that keeps them running is very correct. A number of great companies to work for became the usual hell soon after being bought out. The idea that "Teal" organizations are immune to this is nonsense. They still have a CEO, who can change everything at a whim. Replace the CEO, and that new CEO will change everything at a whim. If you are private and wholly owned by one person, you can fight off things until you're bored or broke, but when you're wholly owned by Amazon?

You're "Teal" right up to the moment that Jeff Bezos decides you aren't.
posted by eriko at 6:52 AM on October 20, 2015 [68 favorites]


I'm all for these kinds of experiments in corporate structure. Most will be bad mutations and will die out, there's a risk that some will move large numbers of people into bad places or worse, but perhaps one or two will actually create better ways to organise ourselves into making good things happen across the personal to the global scale. It's not as if we don't need to work that out, and human culture is all about balancing the forces of artificial and natural selection. Art of the possible, and all that.

(Ah, I see Axle started a comment in just the same way. Jinxlet. Yes, HR is going to be a problem. "You can live outside the law, but be honest" doesn't work here...)

I think I'd be happier if every visionary-CEO-driven experiment in running a company had to have an anthropologist-in-residence on staff with a remit to produce an annual report for a big anthropological conference.
posted by Devonian at 6:52 AM on October 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


I tried to find what industry leaders Peter Thiel and Elon Musk think of this but they were too busy building an island to go Galt on and trying to terraform Mars with a-bombs to comment.

Also fascinating is Silicon Valley's increasing reenacting of 60s systems theory insanity as the cult of big data triumphalism gets more pervasive. Reading this article about Musk's plan to nuke Mars into liveability immediately made me think of Project Chariot. We are deep into "All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace" territory now.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:56 AM on October 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


Because at that point, Amazon will control the website, the shipping, and has a customer service department.

The whole point of Zappos, though, is that their customer service is pretty much the best in the world. My SO works in the industry, and knows some people at Zappos, and she says they LOVE working there (in customer service, talking to actual people on the phone... who loves that??). They're well known for going way, way overboard to take care of their customers.

If amazon takes over, the thing that makes Zappos unique goes away. Not saying it won't happen, but I think lot of people would go back to shoe shopping at Kohls, where you can try stuff on, if it did.

Plus I can get 30% off everything they carry, so GO ZAPPOS!
posted by Huck500 at 7:00 AM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


work-life integration

Sounds like a fancy way of saying, "All your life are belong to us."
posted by fuse theorem at 7:01 AM on October 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


They're well known for going way, way overboard to take care of their customers.
If amazon takes over, the thing that makes Zappos unique goes away.


So? Amazon still removed a significant competitor to their online retail space. And it's not like they can't keep some Zappos-trained folk around to field customer service calls in the short run. Then they keep appearances up, while draining the value of Zappos from the inside like a giant water bug drinking a frog.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:07 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


One of the main points being exactly what tocts is saying — that a leadership structure you can see, discuss, understand, and teach people about is better than an unofficial and half-secret one whose existence you're supposed to deny.

Reading about the color-coded stages of human organization, it strikes me that in this scheme, Teal could be surprisingly close to Infrared/Red. From the article:

“It's easy when there are bosses with budgets. Now we still don't have any answers to how budgets are going to work, and no one is willing to make any decisions because they don't know if they have the authority to do so.

This seems like a really ideal situation for anyone to step right up and say "I have the authority to do this!" and basically seize a little bit of power whenever they sense that everyone else might be too meek to do so. I would guess this would be seen as one of the self-organizey perks of Teal Life, but it seems like it would be fairly similar to Orange Life, where one replicates larger systems of power (responsibility and power naturally bubbling up among the most-fierce and least-risk averse). Here, though, its less-hierarchically-codified process might make it pass for enlightened.

This is not to say that this whole thing might be bad; I think it sounds compellingly interesting, and I am somewhat intoxicated by any attempt to reform capitalism into something less gross for the human soul. But I guess my big worry is that in any system where rules aren't made explicit, people have a tendency to leverage the millions of implicit rules we don't generally codify. I suppose this comment from me is all coming out of seeing sexism, ableism, racism, etc pop up in things like punk scenes, where an explicit rallying cry of "NO RULES" is gradually revealed to be "oh, actually, no, a million rules, just not ones we talk about"
posted by Greg Nog at 7:09 AM on October 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


At its heart, a Teal organization is one that seeks to empower its members to be creative, independent, adaptable, and self-directed—an alliance of entrepreneurs rather than an army of servile corporate drones.

Why, of course, the highest evolution of man is a tech startup founder. How did I not see it before?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 7:10 AM on October 20, 2015 [29 favorites]


Zapponians, as the employees call one another, like to talk about “work-life integration” rather than work-life balance.

Wow, you'd almost think the whole thing is owned by Amazon!
posted by Itaxpica at 7:17 AM on October 20, 2015


It all looks twee and horrible and spooky, but now all I want to do is buy myself a pair of shoes.

I'm going to end up living in an ear, I just know it.
posted by sonascope at 7:23 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think I'd be happier if every visionary-CEO-driven experiment in running a company had to have an anthropologist-in-residence on staff with a remit to produce an annual report for a big anthropological conference.

Would that include IRB approval? These are actual people whose livelihoods and emotional security are being jerked around on the whims of obsessive boy-kings.
posted by kelseyq at 7:26 AM on October 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


The Beach sounds like the chasing-out room at Japanese companies, for workers who aren't wanted but aren't fired, though with Maoist re-education overtones.
posted by clawsoon at 7:27 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's like the world has turned into a Neal Stevenson novel - somebody's got to find him and tell him to write something more cheerful going forward.

It's worse, I'm afraid. The world is turning into Shadowrun, only without metahumans.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:28 AM on October 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


If amazon takes over, the thing that makes Zappos unique goes away.

Amazon's support is great. Here's an interaction I had when I ordered some childproofing fridge locks that UPS shipped to the wrong city:
Hello,

I'm sorry to know your concern with your recent order. I totally understand what the USPS had done. Don't worry about this issue I'll give the quick solution for this.

On a more personal level, I understand the importance of these orders as they were intended to give as gifts to family members honoring significant life events. Regardless of their monetary value, it is the act of acknowledging family and their achievements which gives these gifts their true meaning.

But you don't have to worry we will not let this issue goes like that only. I've forwarded your feedback about the UPS to our investigation department so that they will investigate this issue so it will not happen again in future with anyone because every customer is valuable for us.

I would love to call you and solve the issue for you but please understand that we are just trained in emailing and not in calling and hence I'm unable to call you.
How precious is that? Honoring signficant [sic] life events? I want whatever this rep was smoking.
posted by odinsdream at 7:29 AM on October 20, 2015 [20 favorites]


Tech startup pioneers are the fun-gineers of the human soul.
posted by Artw at 7:29 AM on October 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


Not that I pity him, but Tony Hsieh's actions sound like those of a man who has no basic idea how he got so rich and is deeply insecure about it. Its like he oversees a functioning money-printing machine that effectively runs itself, but has invented all these arcane religious rituals around it to convince people he is essential to the process.
posted by anazgnos at 7:39 AM on October 20, 2015 [41 favorites]


It took years to convince the co-founder of my current company that, no, I don't read trendy management books, I don't know who the CEO of IBM is or what management doctrine they espouse, and I have spent exactly zero seconds in my entire life pontificating any company's mission statement.

Oh god, business books. They are universally shitty. They are inevitably pressed on me by people who never read anything more challenging than the sports page, and so a bullet list of profound-sounding (but meaningless) platitudes blows their minds. The kind of people who post Minions memes with Bible verses on their Facebook.

What I want to say but can't is that I have shelves full of real books at home, good books, some I haven't gotten to read yet, others that I annually re-read because they bring me joy and make my life worth living. I do not have time for your capitalism-worshipping, weak-ass philosophy-of-business trash books.
posted by emjaybee at 7:43 AM on October 20, 2015 [61 favorites]


*crosses fingers for 'High Rise' style descent into madness and cannibalism but with shoes*
posted by The Whelk at 7:44 AM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


The Beach sounds like the chasing-out room at Japanese companies, for workers who aren't wanted but aren't fired, though with Maoist re-education overtones.

It's hardly a new idea. My dad worked at the (as yet unprivatised) Australian telephone company, where he started as an electronics engineer/technician. By the end of his career, his duties involved him punching a few keys on a computer to trigger a process that dialed into various automated exchanges and downloaded diagnostic data; i.e., he was essentially a human cron job. He held on until he could collect his retirement pension, but not a day longer.
posted by acb at 7:49 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


HuronBob: Anytime a business calls it's offices a "campus", I start to get worried.

eriko: It's legit to me if you have three or more buildings together and you control the land around them as well. See "The Museum Campus" in Chicago.

I agree. I work for a government agency, and our facilities span a block and exist in a number of buildings. It's easier to say "campus" than "collective of related but generally separated buildings*."

* Two of the older buildings are connected by an underground tunnel, which is great when it's snowy.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:55 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


The euphemism "performance improvement plan" used at more regular companies for "you're fired, but slowly" isn't *that* much less sinister TBH.
posted by Artw at 7:56 AM on October 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Conventional job titles hardly exist, and top executives are referred to as “monkeys”; assistants, on the other hand, are “ninjas.”

Does someone also work for a TLD seller? "Listen Todd, I'm not registering LindaIsA.ninja, I don't care how much that would show my dedication to the Zappo.Team"
posted by filthy light thief at 7:59 AM on October 20, 2015


Oh god, business books. They are universally shitty. They are inevitably pressed on me by people who never read anything more challenging than the sports page, and so a bullet list of profound-sounding (but meaningless) platitudes blows their minds. The kind of people who post Minions memes with Bible verses on their Facebook.

What I want to say but can't is that I have shelves full of real books at home, good books, some I haven't gotten to read yet, others that I annually re-read because they bring me joy and make my life worth living. I do not have time for your capitalism-worshipping, weak-ass philosophy-of-business trash books.


QF motherfucking divinely inspired T
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:06 AM on October 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


“The boss isn’t always right. But he’s always the boss.”

- via Steven Spielberg's Bridge Of Spies.
posted by fairmettle at 8:12 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Happy Dave: Surely the ultimate test will be if they stay in business?

Well, they were in business before this re-/un-org, and doing pretty well it appeared. The real test is to see if anything improves, either from the view of the employees or the business as a whole.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:13 AM on October 20, 2015


I cannot fathom how anyone can take any of this seriously. Beaches? Monkeys? Ninjas? Tribal identification? I have seen less ridiculous Kevin Costner post-apocalypse films. The functional management structure in the latest Mad Max film was saner than this.

I work for a government agency, and our facilities span a block and exist in a number of buildings. It's easier to say "campus" than "collective of related but generally separated buildings*."

"offices"
"buildings"
posted by Dysk at 8:14 AM on October 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


“The boss isn’t always right. But he’s always the boss.”

- via Steven Spielberg's Bridge Of Spies.


Happy Boss's Day! Thanks for not being a complete douche-nozzle! Have a balloon!
posted by filthy light thief at 8:15 AM on October 20, 2015


I'm assuming that a corporate culture this insane will inevitably crash and burn catastrophically, because navigating this craziness will constantly take away from accomplishing actual work

This assumes that there is enough "actual work" to occupy everyone's time, which has been a lie at every workplace I've ever been in.

Also, Amazon customer service is the best, if your metric is "will replace whatever for basically any sane reason," which I would guess for most people is the only metric they care about. Some items they have sent me a new one without requiring the defective one back at all, and once I got a refund for something and they told me to just keep it (nothing wrong with it, I just didn't need it anymore). They don't need Zappos's CS department.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:20 AM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


With that kind of policy backing you up I bet you can be a much happier customer service person than someone who has to buckle and dime everything, but at the same time I'm not sure there's much need for you.
posted by Artw at 8:23 AM on October 20, 2015


I understand the individual words I'm reading, but none of this concept makes any sense whatsoever to me.

“We're being encouraged to think in terms of a choose-your-own-career adventure.”

So... your bosses are now like Level Bosses that you have to beat...?
posted by harujion at 8:30 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


> I do not have time for your capitalism-worshipping, weak-ass philosophy-of-business trash books.

Inspired by your comment, I walked out into the library stacks and picked up a business (650.1) book at random; "Stand Out" by Dorie Clark. I then opened it at random, and here's the first thing I read:

ASK YOURSELF:
- What needs or concerns does your peer group or community have? How can you help them (e.g. win publicity, obtain new clients, answer legal questions)? How can you add value to their lives?

THAT'S GOOD THINKIN'. If I go to hell, business books will be the only things on the shelves.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:31 AM on October 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


As Van Beek described the enormous scale of the project, which was introduced by Zappos leadership in March 2013, I couldn't help but notice that Supercloud happened to correspond almost exactly with the introduction of Holacracy.

This CEO is a genius. He managed to come up with a way to make the company leaner yet keep the company going long enough to completely merge with Amazon while preventing large-scale attrition, questioning, and dissent re: its future. He did this by giving everyone something else to occupy their time/minds until this happens. The key is here: As a result, almost immediately after the original offer, damage control kicked in, and the tech department was given a deferred offer and a deadline of January 1, 2016. “ In the meantime he gets to run a social experiment without really caring about the consequences on real, live, human beings and make himself look like some kind of innovator, because the company isn't going to go under - it's going to disappear into the bowels of Amazon. He can't even be blamed for the first round of layoffs, because he called it a choice.
posted by barchan at 8:36 AM on October 20, 2015 [49 favorites]




He can't even be blamed for the first round of layoffs, because he called it a choice.

He even said as much in this interview - that he's considering giving the same "offer" periodically when needed. Why bother with the emotionally messy work of downsizing when you can threaten salary cuts and let employees do that work?
posted by muddgirl at 8:44 AM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Tony Hsieh's actions sound like those of a man who has no basic idea how he got so rich and is deeply insecure about it.

So it's funny to think how quotidian the Googles and Microsofts of the world have become what with managers and performance reviews and quarterly objectives and such. Ball pits and trips to Burning Man and free food all seems so pedestrian next to the holacracy.

But for sure companies that are disproportionately successful get weird. People don't have any clue how to grow the business that no one expect to get that big in the first place. Often their growth is limited by things like the size of the American economy or average disposable income, macroeconomic factors that no one really controls, so sales managers either have to admit that they're fundamentally useless or accept that they're just cogs and the best thing they can do is simply not exist. As for the CEO, indeed, many new CEOs don't want to think about how to shave three cents off the handling costs for a box of shoes. They wanted to change the world and make it huge! And for the ones that do it, what the hell comes next? Nothing. Nothing comes next.

Eric Schmidt's technocratic managerial style seems downright quaint in comparison to Hsieh like he's some sort of apron-wearing Mennonite with his fixation with things like "cash" and "employee churn".
posted by GuyZero at 8:46 AM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Why bother with the emotionally messy work of downsizing when you can threaten salary cuts and let employees do that work?

But this actually does sound perfectly great to me: "Hey workers, we need to get rid of a bunch of you. We need to be smaller. If you want to leave, we'll pay you to go. Any takers?"

How is that any worse than picking people at random? AT least people have some agency.
posted by GuyZero at 8:47 AM on October 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


"offices"
"buildings"


But a campus isn't just a set of buildings. It's a set of building close together that are grouped by elements that aren't part of the buildings. One doesn't just say "the university buildings" because a campus is more than just a set of buildings. Some companies have campuses. I'm not sure why that's so objectionable?
posted by GuyZero at 8:49 AM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


That NYT article on the chasing-out rooms sounds like my ideal career, why can't I have that job.

But the real point of the rooms is to make employees feel forgotten and worthless — and eventually so bored and shamed that they just quit, critics say.

Bored and ashamed? How about relaxed and fulfilled? I will work overtime every week in the do-nothing room, such is my dedication to this career path.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:50 AM on October 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


One doesn't just say "the university buildings"

They sure do for a lot of the universities round here.
posted by Dysk at 8:53 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Hey workers, we need to get rid of a bunch of you. We need to be smaller. If you want to leave, we'll pay you to go. Any takers?"

Because it wasn't sold as "we need to be smaller." It was sold as "We only want people here who fit our new culture." Now every employee is expected to take their own inventory - do they really deserve this job? Or if they don't take the package now, are they going to be ostracized and eventually fired with no package at all?
posted by muddgirl at 8:54 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


In some jurisdictions, his "offers" would be constructive dismissal. (He is offering severance packages, though, so it's not that far outside regular practises.)
posted by clawsoon at 8:57 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Increasingly, she said, compensation at Zappos was being tied to something called “badges” and a confusing new internal currency called “People Points.” Everyone at Zappos has 100 People Points that add up, roughly, to the percentage of time they spend on all of their roles.

Dear god, it's GAMIFIED.
posted by Artw at 9:00 AM on October 20, 2015 [14 favorites]



Bored and ashamed? How about relaxed and fulfilled? I will work overtime every week in the do-nothing room, such is my dedication to this career path.


There would presumably be some disciplinary tasks whose sole purpose is to make it impossible for any canny slacker to settle in this room and spend their time meditating or writing their novel or otherwise turning it into some form of high-Maslow fulfilment on the company dime (because moral hazard, that's why). The minimal functional version of these tasks would involve a buzzer going off at random intervals and requiring the worker to perform some task that occupies their attention for at least 15 seconds and can be verified; add some numbers, or navigate some form involving a captcha or similar. Though they may have to disguise it as something that could conceivably generate value for the company, for the purposes of plausible deniability.
posted by acb at 9:02 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course Hsieh is still in charge of how much people earn because that's still where the power ultimately lies.

A lot of this system seemed designed to make it more difficult to make more money. If you get rid of lead developers and VPs of engineering, everyone is pretty much assumed to be an entry level engineer and paid accordingly. To make more money, you have to collect a bunch of badges (multiple hurdles) and then justify it to Tony Hsieh (a big bottleneck). And if that person leaves, he's only replaced by a similarly paid employee if someone goes through that process all over again.

You have basically created a feudal system: one guy at the top, everyone else is a peon, and additional rewards come only at the discretion of the leader. You have both cost reduction AND have basically eliminated career development while creating the APPEARANCE of career development.
posted by deanc at 9:04 AM on October 20, 2015 [19 favorites]


Unless that task is "plausibly appear to care about these screaming babies" I think that sounds just fine.

honestly though all they'd have to do to get me to quit would be to make me share an office with someone who takes all their calls on speakerphone despite the fact that both their hands are functioning and free to hold the phone to their ear as god intended.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:06 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tony Hsieh effectively lives a post-scarcity lifestyle. He can do whatever strikes his fancy and never worry about material consequences. The problem is that 99% of the employees do not have that freedom, and he doesn’t appear to be able to empathize with that experience.

Hsieh created a Neal Stephensonian dystopia, but the hell of it is, he probably believes he’s building Iain Banks’s Culture.
posted by nicepersonality at 9:07 AM on October 20, 2015 [23 favorites]


Are we sure these people are working for Zappos and not StrexCorp Synernists Inc.?

"From my conversations with various Zapponians, I gathered that this idyllic scene was typical of life in Tony Hsieh's magical kingdom. Work was fun, which is good, because people never really stopped working."
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:12 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I propose a new color of "human consciousness": Beanplating Blue, where a highly dispersed group of humans are so self-organized and independent, that the only thing they can do is think about and discuss the arrangement of beans on a plate. Or maybe in a bowl. Perhaps it's not an arrangement but a mound? But beans!
posted by bonje at 9:24 AM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


The appeal of holocracy, to me, was that I had jobs where I was constantly evaluated on my ability to create new ideas and initiatives, but I was also rarely given the authority or resources to put them into practice. So my job became about pitching ideas around the organization (in addition to my assigned work) that 90% of the time went nowhere in the hopes that in a year or so someone would have more resources and think, "hey, that deanc guy I spoke to a year and a half ago had some good ideas. Let me get in touch with him."

But not everyone has the same job I do. And at Zappos, your job is far more likely to be "add a feature to this 10 year old code." And that person doesn't need the overhead of the endless holocracy meetings. And the decision makers don't really need that guy trying to get resources to put his great new initiative for resolving tensions into practice.

I understand that the key to being happier at work is to have more autonomy. But at the same time, someone has to clean the toilets and be done with it. And I'd hate the latter guy to be fired because he isn't passionate about how his work can improve the customer experience.
posted by deanc at 9:29 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Campus is a common and accepted term in North America for the grounds an institution is on, regardless of type of institution. It is perfectly OK in the US for people to say "corporate campus"* and has been for decades, even if English speakers in other countries do not use the word that way.

*(Except for the one time I witnessed a go-getting business rep use "campus" to refer to the conceptual unity of her company's nationwide diaspora of small leased offices in large buildings. That was some inflationary bullshit.)
posted by ardgedee at 9:32 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


"But at the same time, someone has to clean the toilets and be done with it. And I'd hate the latter guy to be fired because he isn't passionate about how his work can improve the customer experience."

Clearly you just contract that work out to someone outside of your holocracy.
posted by Arbac at 9:37 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Those Beach guys aren't doing anything...
posted by Artw at 9:43 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


"But at the same time, someone has to clean the toilets and be done with it. And I'd hate the latter guy to be fired because he isn't passionate about how his work can improve the customer experience."

There's an apocryphal story about JFK visiting NASA headquarters and asking a janitor what he was doing.

These days you just call Sodexo.
posted by achrise at 9:48 AM on October 20, 2015


I know someone that saw the writing on the wall and promptly jumped the Zappos ship and moved to Maine to get away from their nonsense. I'm not 100% sure she'll survive the Maine winters after her time in Vegas, but in the meantime she's got a great new job and is infinitely less stressed out about how well she can game the insane corporate culture. I also heard her old department lost roughly 2/3 of their people and are struggling to hire. That would scare me shitless as an executive, but hey, Tony, you do you, I guess?
posted by Diagonalize at 9:53 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


But I remember this kind of corporate apologia from the last thread about this company so I'm going to assume our positions are intractable and agree to disagree on the functionality and fairness of pyramid management.

You assume a lot of facts not in evidence, here -- I'm not a huge fan of traditional corporate culture. However, I don't see it as corporate apologia to notice that holacracy (like most startup-bro organizational bullshit) solves very few of the problems therein, while also creating a bunch of new ones.

Also, call me a cynic, but this reads basically like every other attempt in the past few decades to create a culture whereby management still owns all the stock and holds all the real power, but employees get a pat on the back and get told they're empowered. Yeah, real "empowered" -- so long as they work longer, harder hours for the same or less pay, give the company access to them in their free time for no added benefit, and accept that their career advancement is tied to the whims of an intentionally unaccountable system.
posted by tocts at 9:56 AM on October 20, 2015 [26 favorites]


I said it the first time but this ain't just some Silicon Valley flatness fad people this is some deep new age bullshit borderline-cult shit.
posted by atoxyl at 10:07 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, call me a cynic, but this reads basically like every other attempt in the past few decades to create a culture whereby management still owns all the stock and holds all the real power, but employees get a pat on the back and get told they're empowered. Yeah, real "empowered" -- so long as they work longer, harder hours for the same or less pay, give the company access to them in their free time for no added benefit, and accept that their career advancement is tied to the whims of an intentionally unaccountable system.

Like I already said way upthread, I am also critical of holocracy. What I'm saying is it is a false choice to say you either have to deal with a top-down hierarchy or some la-di-da cosmetic workplace democracy that has a hidden, secret hierarchy in place. Workers who organize themselves on a consensus model can and do make real gains in terms of their work hours, wages, benefits and related matters. And some workplaces are indeed collectives; we have an article about one such workplace right on the front page today. But at the end of the day, again, even among workplaces that have bosses, I would much prefer a workplace that has actual and real mechanisms for worker control that are not New Agey woo to a workplace that follows the same old canine hierarchy. Both places will still have their ego-tripping straw bosses, but your chances of actually improving your workplace are generally greater in the former. Long story short, I'm reluctant to reduce the discussion to a choice between a pyramid or a cult for a workplace, when the reality is there are far, far more choices than this.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 10:08 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Man... there's a lot of people looking down their nose at this. If you don't like this... then don't work there. There were plenty of people that were offered severance packages and took them. Even still, there's plenty of time to include Zappo's in your work history and still get some street cred for it.

But the condemnation of this is just... I feel dirty reading these comments in the blue. This is corporate evolution at it's finest. 99.9% of change doesn't work. That just means you have to go through a thousand iterations before you find something that does. You can't both claim you hate Mondays and then show disdain for somebody that's doing something about it.

This is not a zero-sum game. Just because some of the stuff they're doing doesn't work doesn't mean it's a complete failure. It sounds like they're willing to make changes very quickly. Again, if people don't like it they'll have the freedom to leave.

More power to all of those who are willing to try something different.
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:16 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


What I'm saying is it is a false choice to say you either have to deal with a top-down hierarchy or some la-di-da cosmetic workplace democracy that has a hidden, secret hierarchy in place. Workers who organize themselves on a consensus model can and do make real gains in terms of their work hours, wages, benefits and related matters.

Yeah, but it isn't a false choice, it is the choice that was made by Zappos, which is the subject of the article. I appreciate that there are other ways than these two to structure organizations better, but Zappos ditched hierarchy for holocracy, so it isn't corporate apologetics to compare the two.
posted by OmieWise at 10:19 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


You can't both claim you hate Mondays and then show disdain for somebody that's doing something about it.

You certainly can when Mondays get extended to 10pm on Sunday.
posted by griphus at 10:22 AM on October 20, 2015 [22 favorites]


This is corporate evolution at it's finest.

Or a darwinian dead end. Just wait for a downturn in the business cycle, Tony moves on and traditional execs move in and gently or abruptly keep a few of the successful phone scripts and outsource most of the grunts to the Philippines. Get's few great b-school masters thesis.

I'd note that one early change Tony the CEO did was move to Las Vegas? What? Actually makes sense, there's a weird labor market with a lot of casino employees that would be very appreciative of a day job that takes them out of the croupier gig.

I personally would apply there, as a software dude, well defined market rates they know the'll need to pay and although it sounds like they're living in crunch mode it would be worth a stab, but a poorly defined marketing middle manager would be crazy to jump into that unless they knew they could become best buds with Tony.
posted by sammyo at 10:31 AM on October 20, 2015


Fungineer
posted by destro at 10:32 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Re: the false choice. I'm skeptical of the viability of large groups making decisions by consensus, but I'm much more bullish on democracy. Are there examples of companies with a formal hierarchy where access to that hierarchy is controlled by voting instead of by kingly decree?
posted by macrael at 10:34 AM on October 20, 2015


Another is that old-fashioned management hierarchies stifle innovation, because they naturally generate informal rules and cliques of powerful insiders, which is inefficient and demoralizing


Oh, yeah- and weird hippie culty organizations totally don't do this.


*blows kisses at Tony Hsieh's two-story Airstream*
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:42 AM on October 20, 2015


>Or a darwinian dead end

Yes. Exactly. Remember that nearly all species that have ever evolved over the history of the planet have died out. But the very very small percentages that evolved AND survived were perfectly suited to that environment.

This is EXACTLY how evolution works. Thus, it's a perfect example. We don't know if it will fail or not... but we have to have a lot of failures before we find something that works.

So don't condemn those who fail. Condemn those who fail to try.
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:44 AM on October 20, 2015


Also, this talk of "circles" is strongly reminiscent of the Circles of Magi from Dragon Age.


Which totally doesn't have any ominous implications.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:46 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


More power to all of those who are willing to try something different.

The thing is, some of us have been through this "you're all your own bosses now" bullshit, in varying forms and to varying degrees...and, well, The Tyranny of Structurelessness is spot-on.

The "employee empowerment" aspect sounds wonderful in theory—but it isn't, in fact, structureless. It simply disguises power structures by making them implicit and informal (though no less real). In so doing, it removes checks and balances on them, and leaves political maneuvering as the only available pattern of interaction and organization. Which has predictable results—along with a generous side of tragedy-of-the-commons (when there are no explicitly defined lines of responsibility, everything becomes someone else's problem).

Hsieh is just taking something that we already know, from experience, to be a bad idea, and turning it up to 37,000.

How about you empower me by giving me the tools, information, authority, and mandate that I need to get my job done? Instead of just proclaiming that leadership is now obsolete and unnecessary (except for the part where the leaders still have absolute veto power and reap vastly disproportionate financial benefits)?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:53 AM on October 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'm not even personally against "non-hierarchical" organization at a smaller scale. It's just that this is super obviously off the damn deep end for reasons that don't even require you to feel a certain way about that.
posted by atoxyl at 11:12 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


"My circle guru didn't like my new badge design, so they sent me to the beach. It's OK, they said, because I still had three lives left, plus I could earn a 1-up by demonstrating an understanding of key Teal principles. I said I don't play video games, and they invited me to something called a 'Struggle Session'!"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:18 AM on October 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


The tech team, who presumable you have a lot of experience with agile and the like, all bailed first, so that should probably tell you a thing or towo.
posted by Artw at 11:21 AM on October 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


Not that agile is necessarily perfect as self organization goes, and its probe to cultishisness itself, but working with it will give you some real practical experience of the problems self organization solves, doesn't solve and introduces.
posted by Artw at 11:23 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree with much of what has been said here, but I've also watched corporate hierarchies at work, and you know what? That doesn't work great, either. The hierarchy supports decision-making by what is generally a cadre of clueless wealthy old white guys, and they're just not really open to hearing the experiences of other people. It's an echo chamber of bias confirmation. I watched them destroy morale by encouraging everybody to work more for a week to make up for profit lost to bad weather, get told by multiple people that it had a toxic effect on morale, and then do it again later. It's a service company! You don't want to destroy morale if you can help it if you're still profitable anyway! And for all of that, our work product (and indeed, much of the industry's work product) was mediocre anyway.

Generally, excellence wasn't actually rewarded; usually sucking up and toeing the company line was. Some time before I left my last job, I remember watching a more senior employee basically get denied promotion. This was a real bummer because I would have preferred to have her managing me (we worked well together) instead of my current manager. She left for another company, of course.

Then my manager said that the problem with her was that she left at 5:00 every day and didn't want to put in more hours all the time. This at a time when nobody worked less than 45 hours a week, I routinely worked 50 or more, and I was feeling excessively burned out and overworked. And I didn't even have a spouse and kids.

This only made me respect the coworker who left more, not less. In consulting, they were obsessed with hours-billed metrics, not so much quality of work or doing things better. Young people joined, then had the enthusiasm crushed out of them within 1-4 years (depending on manager and workload). And then all the smart young people started leaving.

Maybe no hierarchy is shitty, but I can't recommend traditional hierarchy to anybody either. Maybe, as is often the case, the best position is somewhere in the middle. But my experience with traditional corporate hierarchy is that it's a long, slow death march. I'd be willing to give this stuff a shot if I had to work in a large company again. Though I would definitely prefer something with no buzzwords at all. Buzzwords can die. Corporations should be able to communicate all their strategy in the style of the Thing Explainer.
posted by Strudel at 11:23 AM on October 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


But the condemnation of this is just... I feel dirty reading these comments in the blue

I think that, like with the Amazon article, the readership of MeFi is extra agitated and judgmental because the tech industry is their industry, and they don't want to see themselves being subject to these kinds of workplace experiments.
posted by deanc at 11:40 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I would disagree with the notion that this thing is "not a hierarchy" - it's clearly a hierarchy, it's just a hierarchy with most of the responsibilities for making it work usher down to the lowest level and most of the privileges of being an insider disguised with twee language.
posted by Artw at 11:53 AM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Buzzwords can die.

Straight to the beach!
posted by Artw at 11:53 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think that, like with the Amazon article, the readership of MeFi is extra agitated and judgmental because the tech industry is their industry, and they don't want to see themselves being subject to these kinds of workplace experiments.

Well, first of all, as some have mentioned, a lot of the stuff Zappos is doing has nothing to do with tech. Order fulfillment, customer service, marketing... These are all job functions that use tech, but Zappo's is a shoe retailer that happens to use a website to sell its products more than it is a pure tech company.

Also, while a lot of MeFi-ites work in tech, I'd wager that most don't. I think the bigger worry for a lot of folks is that even if they don't work in tech, tech is basically eating everything else by embedding itself into so many different industries, so it's likely that if this becomes A Thing in tech, it will become A Thing elsewhere. Jack Welch's stacked ranking system didn't contain itself within GE or even within the industries GE competed in while Welch was CEO -- it's everywhere now.

Of course the very fuzzy / new-age-y nature of this makes me think that this is never going to fly with investors in publicly-traded companies who like their orderly hierarchies, so I see this whole thing as more of an opportunity to point-and-laugh than anything to be genuinely afraid of, but I can still understand why people might have a rational fear of this cultish fad becoming the norm.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:55 AM on October 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's worse, I'm afraid. The world is turning into Shadowrun, only without metahumans.

I was thinking it sounded like something from "Paranoia". And the more I think of it, the more like something from "Paranoia" it sounds. I'm imagining a scenario in which some Ultraviolet somewhere tries to convince the Computer to loosen up, via a weird combination of New Age speak, Business Book Language, and surfer culture. And then the Computer decides to try it out in a randomly selected sector of Alpha Complex. But like always, the Computer completely fails to understand even the simplest things about human nature.

Jesus, even the references to "Teal" would work as part of a Paranoia adventure: the sudden emergence, within the experimental Sector, of a new colloquial jargon referring to previously-only-notional levels of Security Clearance begins to spook the Computer, who sends in Troubleshooters to figure out what it all means.

I really hope the forthcoming new version of Paranoia takes off in a big way, because I might have a proposal to send them...
posted by Ipsifendus at 12:05 PM on October 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm like 80% serious about moving to Vegas and taking a job with Zappos so I can sue the ever living shit out of them when they fuck up HR royally. Because that stuff is hard, and the consequences are large.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:10 PM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


God, I would love to work there for the two weeks it would take them to fire me. I would have a wonderful time selling my coworkers on the idea of setting up an alternate secret hierarchy of workers, one that cuts out the ownership, and then demanding that all decisions be vetted by both the traditional ownership and by the workers' organizaton.

I mean I'd definitely be fired in two weeks. but if I weren't fired, what I'd angle for is revealing the existence of this separate worker controlled hierarchy in let's say February of a given year, establishing a system of dual power wherein all decisions have to be approved by both the worker's organization and by ownership, gradually building the power of the worker's organization over the course of the spring and summer, and then in October of that year parking let's say a battleship outside of the corporate offices and shelling them until the owners agree to transfer all power to the workers.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:14 PM on October 20, 2015 [39 favorites]


Also, I feel like I was promised an article about how this was working, but was given an article about stuff we already knew. And it didn't spend near enough time talking to actual people. I don't want to hear about the airstream park and concert. Clearly these things were intended to distract the writer, and they worked.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:18 PM on October 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


ps we'd have to keep a close eye on the sailors from that battleship after the transfer of power - those guys might end up being too radical for us...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:18 PM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Buick, I am intrigued by your ideas, and would like to join your piratical workers collective.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 12:23 PM on October 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


a cadre of clueless wealthy old white guys, and they're just not really open to hearing the experiences of other people.

Hsieh seems not that different.

The deal is not "traditional hierarchies are better!", it's that by and large, they want your productivity but don't really care what you do with your soul. You are free to not immerse your identity in the corporate hivemind.

More worker cooperatives and a Guaranteed Basic Income would be a hell of a lot more "disruptive" than this sort of quasi-cult faffing around.
posted by emjaybee at 12:25 PM on October 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


todo: convince the people who favorite me a lot that they really, really want to be inner-circle cadres in a secret revolutionary workers organization.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:26 PM on October 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as mail-order shoe company.

I bet they'd accuse me of sabotage when they fired me. I also bet that they wouldn't quite get the irony involved there.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:28 PM on October 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


for some reason I think maybe this mefite might have some thoughts about the scheme I've developed...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:33 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Surely there is a way to self organize that doesn't involve treating employees like children?
posted by Tevin at 12:35 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is not a zero-sum game. Just because some of the stuff they're doing doesn't work doesn't mean it's a complete failure. It sounds like they're willing to make changes very quickly. Again, if people don't like it they'll have the freedom to leave.

From TFA:
But entry-level jobs aren't that easy to come by in Las Vegas (or anywhere), Coy responded, and for people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, a job that's always in flux can be pretty terrifying.

“People who live in trailers,” he said darkly, “generally do so because they're broke, not because it's a fun social experiment.”
Never assume there is an equality of power in the relationship between the employed and the employer.

The work-life integration thing bothers me most, because it sounds like a way of discriminating against people who have families, or need to care for a sick parent, or have disabilities, or any number of things that can prevent them from making work their only priority.

The happy-talk wear-your-flair BurningMan/TED/SxSW working environment would also be pretty sickening, pretty quick, but that's more a personal preference than a real power issue like above.
posted by Existential Dread at 12:38 PM on October 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


You know I could get down with a Sunday evening meeting of it also meant I could stay home with my family Monday afternoon while my wife worked.

But I don't get the impression work life integration works both directions.
posted by Tevin at 12:46 PM on October 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


Buick, that comment deserves all the upvotes. In fact, I would like to make a sweeping, epic movie about it, although I fear I would later end up out of favor for failing to portray a prefect realism of the workers paradise you would create.
posted by Hactar at 12:52 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Personally, my dislike for this is like my dislike for Netflix and their "we don't have 'vacation time', just take what you want! Unless you take too much, but we won't tell you what that is" policy. I don't care too much what Netflix does, but I really don't want it to become more common because it will ruin things for the rest of us.
posted by thefoxgod at 1:03 PM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


todo: convince the people who favorite me a lot that they really, really want to be inner-circle cadres in a secret revolutionary workers organization.

I'm in!
posted by aka burlap at 1:10 PM on October 20, 2015


"we don't have 'vacation time', just take what you want! Unless you take too much, but we won't tell you what that is"

I'm pretty sure I have failed an interview at a company for asking too many questions about a similar policy.
posted by Artw at 1:12 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't say you failed it ...
posted by tocts at 1:35 PM on October 20, 2015 [16 favorites]


Yeah, people feel bad for me because I've worked at law firms for the last 20 odd years. But man, at least you know where you really stand with a true authoritarian model. It may not be great, but there's no hide-the-ball.

Reading this article was like re-reading Dave Eggers' The Circle, only shorter and the writing was a bit better.
posted by janey47 at 1:45 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


It so happened that I had just ordered shoes from Zappos that arrived today. I tried them on. They fit great.
They're sitting in their box, as yet unworn. I'm seriously considering sending them back because of this article. I know I deal with awful companies every day, but just this once . . .
posted by Countess Elena at 1:55 PM on October 20, 2015


This is cool like that boat scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

But it’s sort of terrifying like that boat scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:55 PM on October 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


Yeah, I'm very uncomfortable with things like "oh, just take as much vacation time as you need" policies. I *like* my vacation time as earned compensation that gets cashed out when I leave a place.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:03 PM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also, while a lot of MeFi-ites work in tech, I'd wager that most don't. I think the bigger worry for a lot of folks is that even if they don't work in tech, tech is basically eating everything else by embedding itself into so many different industries, so it's likely that if this becomes A Thing in tech, it will become A Thing elsewhere.

Worse. Some of us work in companies that adopt the fads of the tech industry ONLY after they have been proved a failure and discarded by all right thinking people.
posted by Seamus at 2:12 PM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


To the best of my knowledge, actual employee owned companies tend towards a standard hierarchical structure. The ones where buy in is a good idea because, you know, you actually own (literally) part of your job. Can anyone who has worked for this type of company or knows more about it tell me if I'm wrong?
Its kind of tautological: there are plenty of employee owned companies with a non hierarchical structure; but these are typically Worker Co-ops are referred to as such. Employee Owned Company may refer to co-ops but its often used to describe companies that have a conventional legal structure but are owned by their workers in some way. These tend to have different roots from co-ops: often they started as a conventional organization that was passed on by benevolent owners when they retired or are brought by employees pension funds.

Worker Co-ops are not necessarily non-hierarchical, larger co-ops such as the Mondragon Corporation in the Basque Country often have some degree of hierarchical organization. It's important to note that they are still Co-ops so they have a legal structure that puts workers in democratic control of the company and gives them ownership. That doesn't have to translate as self-management, just as control over the direction of the company (in a similar way to shareholders), though even in cases where there is a defined management structure its typical to have more control than the average worker -- I believe it's typical in Mondragon to elect/ratify management on an annual basis.

It should also be noted that there are employee owned companies that are not co-ops with some degree of power given to workers, but it is not necessary for their to be any.
Re: the false choice. I'm skeptical of the viability of large groups making decisions by consensus, but I'm much more bullish on democracy. Are there examples of companies with a formal hierarchy where access to that hierarchy is controlled by voting instead of by kingly decree?
Aside from Mondragon example discussed above (and many co-ops work by voting rather than consensus), there is also the example of the John Lewis Partnership, a long-established employee owned company. Employees are treated as Partners, who elect at least 80 per cent of the 82 representatives on the Partnership council which has the power to discuss ‘any matter whatsoever’, and is responsible for the non-commercial aspects of the business.The Partnership Council also elects five directors on the Partnership Board (which is responsible for the commercial activities).
posted by tallus at 2:37 PM on October 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yah you can laugh and poo-poo this all you want but nobody's laughing 150 years from now when Zappos takes over the entire state of Nevada, nobody in the State can get a decent drink to save their life and every Sunday morning you have to contend with fucking Zappo missionaries in white shirts and ties trying to sell you holy shoes on their hoverboards.
posted by AGameOfMoans at 2:48 PM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


The IT project sounds like a utter nightmare to on the inside of, so I'm not surprised that many bailed and they forced a delay on the pointless cult management stuff. What a massive cluster-fuck that'll turn into... but as others have said the Amazon amoeba is just going to absorb it anyway - probably use the ineviable crash and burn of the IT project as an excuse, put out all the fires with money and then strip out all that rubbish, just leaving the customer care department
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:12 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course you could have a proper workers co-operative but that's a little bit too old fashioned and left wing... you know actually giving the workers power and ownership of the company, deciding things for themselves, electing managers... ooh scarily left wing
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:18 PM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


This place is seriously a couple of e-meters away from being the secular prototype for Scientology.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:48 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but it isn't a false choice, it is the choice that was made by Zappos, which is the subject of the article. I appreciate that there are other ways than these two to structure organizations better, but Zappos ditched hierarchy for holocracy, so it isn't corporate apologetics to compare the two.

Yeah I'm pretty sure I made it clear I think holocracy is terrible. Zappos' feel-good superconformist cult is bad. Like, no one disagrees with this. What I disagreed with is the idea that Zappos somehow proves that what a workplace needs is a top-down structure and consensus is a delusion. It's like saying that the whole "Land Rover planted 10 trees in my name when I bought this SUV, ergo it is a green machine" thing proves that green power is a pipe dream and we're all better off driving coal-powered cars.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 4:12 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I got some ideas about how to run a business. Why don't you take off your trousers and hop into the Brainstorming Pool with me. You want a Twizzler? Some fried rice? Y'see, man, we got all sorts here. We got a guy who lives in a truck out in the parking lot. He saves all his money and eats Twizzlers for dinner every night and he's still only managed to pay down $4,000 of his student loan in six months. He ablutes and micturates and defecates on company property and does gunfingers at everybody. You know what I say to that? "That's gravy, kemosabe." That's just how we do things here.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:49 PM on October 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


A few notes:

1) The term "the beach" is pretty common in management consulting (McKinsey, BCG, Accenture) for when you're in between client engagements. In that world, it's kind of expected that you'd have this kind of downtime but in a typical corporate work environment, it's a bit weird to be "between engagements". I can see how they would have carried over the lingo though since it's supposed to describe the same situation.

2) Do not miss the manifesto (linked in the article) that one of the Zappos software engineers wrote comparing the implementation of Holacracy at Zappos to the frigging American revolution. Holy cow. It's long but you'll probably not get a higher WTFs-per-minute from anything else you'll read tonight. My main disappointment is that I can't tell if the author, Brian Kirby, is still with Zappos or if he's bailed yet. The article doesn't say and he doesn't seem to have a Linkedin, which is odd for a software guy in this day and age.
posted by Pseudonymous Sockpuppet at 9:19 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


the term "the beach" is pretty common in management consulting

Hmmm... I have been in IT consulting for 24-years, and have only ever heard of "the bench"...

But, I guess management consultants have life better and go to the beach instead...
posted by jkaczor at 7:52 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


The article seemed to be a hatchet job based on a couple of anecdotes from people stressed by change. Hard to tell from just a few real interviews, but Zappos seems a thousand times better than Amazon. It will be interesting to come back in a year or two and see what employee turnover is like. There are a lot of people who like authoritarianism, strict rules, crisp orders and clearly defined lines of responsibilities. We call them Republicans. They probably won't do well at Zappos. I wish Zappos success because what is going on in traditional business is truly awful.
posted by JackFlash at 10:26 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are a lot of people who like authoritarianism, strict rules, crisp orders and clearly defined lines of responsibilities. We call them Republicans suppressive personalities

FTFY.
posted by acb at 10:37 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it's pretty silly to believe that authoritarianism won't exist just because the lines of authority aren't drawn on an org chart. The fact that traditional corporate structures lead to bad outcomes doesn't mean this has any better chance of leading to good outcomes.

Also important to note that explicit authority, while it has drawbacks if the manager is bad, has the benefit of allowing good managers to intervene in ways that protect employees. The recess yard sometimes needs the teacher on duty to break up fights and figure out who started them.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:50 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think you are doing employees any favors by treating them as children requiring adult intervention. That's the way CEOs think.
posted by JackFlash at 10:57 AM on October 21, 2015


I said sometimes. Bullies exist in corporate America, harassing and undermining their coworkers. HR compliance policies exist for a reason, and without managers to resolve disputes, those policies would have no teeth.

And since you brought political ideology into it, what about government itself? If this holocracy is good enough for Zappo's, why not let government workers decide based on consensus or majority rule without those pesky bosses telling them which regulations they should and shouldn't enforce?
posted by tonycpsu at 11:05 AM on October 21, 2015


If this holocracy is good enough for Zappo's, why not let government workers decide based on consensus or majority rule.

I don't think comparing governments to corporations is where you want to go. Governments are run by consensus and majority rule. It's called elections. The rules are made by the citizens and their representatives. Traditional corporations are exactly the opposite -- absolute dictatorships. The CEO and deputies make all the rules and enforce them with absolute authority.
posted by JackFlash at 11:12 AM on October 21, 2015


I think you're just evading the question, hiding behind the fig leaf that we live in some kind of referendum-based democracy.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:22 AM on October 21, 2015


I don't think comparing governments to corporations is where you want to go. Governments are run by consensus and majority rule.

So are corporations, as long as you recognize that shareholders are equivalent to voters. There's a pretty straightforward mapping between corporate structure and government structure, perhaps because modern democracies were developed by the same kinds of businessmen who developed modern corporations. The mapping is like this:

Voters == Owners/Shareholders
Elected Legislature == Board of Directors
Deputy Ministers/Department Heads == Executives
Government Employees == Corporate Employees
posted by clawsoon at 11:24 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you think corporations are run as any kind of democracy, you are severely deluded. First off, in a democracy, Jeff Bezos doesn't get 84 million votes. Secondly, corporations are structured so that shareholders have very little power over the operation of the company. The CEO and his buddies on board of directors really run the show as absolute dictators. Corporate bylaws severely restrict the rights of shareholders and even what they get to vote on. The only substantive right a shareholder has is to sell their shares. A corporation is in no way, shape or form equivalent to a democracy.
posted by JackFlash at 11:45 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


First off, in a democracy, Jeff Bezos doesn't get 84 million votes.

And in a democracy, Charles and David Koch don't get $889 million in votes, either.

Secondly, corporations are structured so that shareholders have very little power over the operation of the company.

Right, and with its bicameral legislature, the Electoral college, etc. the United States is structured so that voters have very little power over the operation of the country.

A corporation is in no way, shape or form equivalent to a democracy.

And neither is our system of government.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:57 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think that you're insufficiently cynical about modern democracies. :-)

There are definitely differences, and you've pointed out a few - it's very difficult to leave the democracy you're in, while it's relatively simple to sell your shares; votes in a democracy are non-transferable, unlike votes in a corporation, leading to the 84 million votes which Bezos has in Amazon (and I'll agree that that's a major difference); it's easy to be a shareholder in multiple corporations, and difficult to be a voter in multiple democratic nation-states, etc.

However, you might also notice that what voters in most democracies are allowed to vote on is also extremely restricted. There are very few referendums compared to the number of laws passed.

And you might also note that party whips, first-past-the-post, etc. - and the very fact of representative democracy - give voters very little power over the operations of government.

And you might also be insufficiently cynical about the actual power which a CEO has. In any large organization - government or corporation - the people at the top are dependent in their decision-making on information that comes up from below. That takes considerable power away from them.
posted by clawsoon at 12:02 PM on October 21, 2015


Traditional corporations like Amazon are run as absolute hierarchical dictatorships. They are truly awful places to work. Zappos is trying something quite different. It may not appeal to everyone, but I'll be interested to see how it turns out in a few years.
posted by JackFlash at 12:18 PM on October 21, 2015


Spoiler alert: Amazon absorbs them completely and everybody's fired.
posted by odinsdream at 12:54 PM on October 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


There's still a hierarchy. There's Hsieh and the Teal Illuminati, and then there's everyone else whose positions might be subject to 'streamlining' if they fail to be sufficiently awesome in surfing the holacracy or whatever everyone's job description is now, or making up for it with a sufficiently abased round of Zappo-juche self-criticism.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:47 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tealluminati come on
posted by griphus at 4:48 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


mea culpa
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:48 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just want to see a battleship in Vegas....
posted by Jacen at 11:38 AM on October 22, 2015


But a campus isn't just a set of buildings. It's a set of building close together that are grouped by elements that aren't part of the buildings. One doesn't just say "the university buildings" because a campus is more than just a set of buildings. Some companies have campuses. I'm not sure why that's so objectionable?

I'm late to the party here but I assume people object to the term 'campus' being used for businesses because the term originally means something quite different from your definition of 'a set of building close together that are grouped by elements that aren't part of the buildings.' It's not just an organized set of buildings on a single plot of land -- rather, the the 1933 OED defines 'campus' as 'the grounds of a college or university,' and I think for many people still the term refers only to universities.

The corporate use of the term to refer to their establishments is for some people actually very similar to what Zappo's is doing -- another instance of corporations appropriating a term and idea from outside the business world to soften the edges of corporate life and further blurring the line between work and non-work. I'm not surprised that some people want to object to preserve that distinction.
posted by crazy with stars at 9:05 AM on October 23, 2015


I'm late to the party here but I assume people object to the term 'campus' being used for businesses because the term originally means something quite different from your definition of 'a set of building close together that are grouped by elements that aren't part of the buildings.' It's not just an organized set of buildings on a single plot of land -- rather, the the 1933 OED defines 'campus' as 'the grounds of a college or university,' and I think for many people still the term refers only to universities.



Also late to the party.
I'd never really thought about it, but I think my general rule of thumb was that a campus was a group of buildings with a least one for the purposes of research, and if the research done by a business at least some of it must be theoretical/experimental. This is why companies like Google, Intel or IBM calling their offices campuses is okay with me (legitimate technical and scientific advancements are made there, many for zero profit.), and companies like Zappos or Doritos don't.

Basically, if scientists or engineers are in some subset of a group of buildings and investigating/researching anything that advances human knowledge, not including market research, direct product research (e.g. How can we make this iPhone more ergonomic?), efficiency research (e.g. How can we make Doritos more quickly, cheaply, flavorful?) or things like this, it is a campus. It's a very subjective definition, but I like it.

There's no way in hell Zappos has a campus. Cults and whatever insular business shit Zappos is up to have "Compounds". They work in the Zappos Compound.
posted by neonrev at 8:55 PM on October 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


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