Review: Tim Leberecht: Four Ways to Build a Human Company in the Age of Machines (TEDTalk 2016).
Part Two: We talked last time about the first two principles to build a “human” company: 1) Do the unnecessary: the extra organizational items, from bagel Wednesdays to granting stock to all employees; and 2) Create intimacy: find ways to promote honest and meaningful conversations. Now we will provide an overview of the second two principles Leberecht talks about.
3. Risk being Ugly. Leberecht notes that many workplaces focus on the superficial aspects of the workplace. There are coffee bars, playgrounds, etc. built on the promise of positive psychology. One start-up he cited said if someone gets fired they have a “graduation” ceremony!
Ugly, however, cuts clean to the bone, and by this he means that we need to be honest and authentic. This doesn't mean you can't have fun, but you shouldn’t give in to the dark side of being vulgar or cynical. Instead, speak the honest truth. One company he mentioned wanted to transform an underperforming business unit. A team put together a list of the hundreds of issues that had become obstacles to better performance and put them all in a room they called the Ugly Room. The honest truth therefore became visible for all to see, and the Ugly Room became a place to do a biopsy on where they needed to cut out bureaucracy and inefficiencies.
Leberecht says that the ugliest part of us is our brain, which renders what is unfamiliar or even uncomfortable as ugly. Whether it’s abstract art, atonal music, even us: we have all been ugly at some point; we were the foreigner, the new kid in school, etc. and will be ugly again when we don’t belong. Part of the process of ensuring that the honest truth continues to come to the fore is to remain incomplete.
Think about what your organization does to promote the honest, even ugly truth being surfaced. Do you have events or processes where it is okay and even encouraged for organizational inefficiencies and roadblocks to performance are surfaced and addressed?
4. Remain incomplete. Leberecht attended Up All Night, a self-organized protest movement in Paris formed in response to proposed labor laws in France. At a city plaza there were nightly forums whose purpose was to deliberate people’s vision of what the French Republic could become. Like other similar movements it was messy and full of controversy and contradictions. But whether you agreed with the movements’ goals or not, every gathering was an expression of raw humanity. People had a say about a lofty idea. Leberecht proposes that great organizations represent ideas worth fighting for, even and especially when the outcome is uncertain. Like Up All Night they are movements that are not perfectly organized but have something that we’re not sure about and we can't take our eyes off of them – they are beautiful.
These are all inherently human characteristics, and the qualities of what we all call home. Our task Leberecht says is to ensure we feel at home in our organizations. In the face of software and machine learning, we have to make beauty a part of our organizations, we have to design for them. If not, we may feel like aliens in an organization and society that has no appreciation for the unnecessary, the intimate, the ugly, or the incomplete.
Last, what does your organization do to encourage conversation and dialogue about the future, about strategy, and what the organization is and could become?