Over the last few years, I’ve written quite a bit about the concept of defaulting to open, which was one of the major things that drove the culture at Red Hat and was an honest extension of the philosophy behind the open source movement. The term ‘default to open’ was also recently expanded upon by Google SVP of People Operations Laszlo Bock in this article from Google’s fantastic Think Quarterly online magazine.
The first thing to notice when you look at this picture is that everyone is sitting in the same room together.
No one at New Kind has an office. We all share a big open space. Now having said that, what you see here—everyone sitting at their desks—is pretty rare. While we are together by default, if someone gets a phone call or has a meeting, they typically get up from their desk and head into one of our dark conference rooms for privacy and to ensure they don’t annoy everyone else.
With the exception of our big collaboration space, all of the conference rooms at New Kind are gloomy rooms with no outside windows, so unless folks are on deadline and trying to escape distractions, they are not places to linger longer than necessary. That’s a good thing because it tends to keep us together. And if we are sitting at our desks and trying to avoid distractions, headphones are our friends (In fact, I’m writing this at my desk while listening to the new Sleigh Bells album).
Not only does everyone—including our Chairman and CEO—sit in the same room together by choice, but as you can see from the picture, everyone also has the same inexpensive IKEA desks and file cabinets. Yes, we have titles at New Kind so that we can interface successfully with the outside world, but they sure don’t get you much inside the office.
The last thing I’d like to point out that really shows what we mean by ‘default to open’ is that there are two people sitting in this picture, Adrienne and Billy, who are not technically New Kind employees, but do work with us regularly. Adrienne is a fantastic designer and the genius behind the amazing food blog AdrienneEats. Billy is a writer and social media expert with a Klout score second only to Nation of the people in this picture (impressive!). Neither of them is in the office every day. In fact, some days you’ll see other people sitting in those seats or elsewhere in the office with us.
When we first formed New Kind, we had a vision of the company as a community. The core concept behind New Kind was very simple:
We wanted to
1) do meaningful work
2) with people we like.
That’s it. So we regularly invite people we like to sit in the office with us, whether they are New Kind employees or not. New Kind is a community, open to those people who share our worldview. Often the folks who work with us in the office are collaborating with us on projects. Sometimes they are working on projects for other clients. We don’t really care, we just like having them around.
Do you have a similar setup and philosophy in your office? Tell me about it!
It’s been a week now since Steve Yegge of Google fired the shot heard ’round the tech industry. In case you missed it, Steve wrote a thoughtful, yet highly charged rant intended to begin an internal conversation about Google’s failures in learning how to build platforms (as opposed to products).
In the post, he eviscerates his former employer, Amazon, and in particular CEO Jeff Bezos (who he refers to as the Dread Pirate Bezos), but doesn’t pull any punches with his current employer either. It is an extremely passionate, well-written piece which, my guess is, will change the conversation internally at Google in a positive way.
But there was one problem:
When posting it to Google+ (which he was admittedly new to), Steve accidentally made his rant public, where the whole world could see it.
And over the past week, pretty much everyone has.
This prominent re-post (Steve took his original piece down, which I’ll get to in a second) has generated, as of this writing, 487 comments and over 11,000 +1s on Google+.
The comments are spectacular and largely supportive. Some have referred to this as Steve Yegge’s Jerry McGuire moment.
But my post isn’t about Steve. He’s received plenty of attention in the past week, poor guy.
It’s about the Google PR team that, in a time of crisis, made the tough decision to stay true to the spirit of openness that Google Senior VP of People Operations Laszlo Bock described in his recent piece in Think Quarterly. From Laszlo’s piece:
“And if you think about it, if you’re an organization that says ‘our people are our greatest asset,’ you must default to open. It’s the only way to demonstrate to your employees that you believe they are trustworthy adults and have good judgment. And giving them more context about what is happening (and how, and why) will enable them to do their jobs more effectively and contribute in ways a top-down manager couldn’t anticipate.”
So if “default to open” is the overall philosophy at Google, how does it play out in practice? As it turns out, Steve Yegge’s rant provides a pretty good data point.
In a Google+ message explaining his decision to take down the original post, Steve described the reaction of the Google PR team this way:
“I’ve taken the post down at my own discretion. It was kind of a tough call, since obviously there will be copies. And everyone who commented was nice and supportive.
I contacted our internal PR folks and asked what to do, and they were also nice and supportive. But they didn’t want me to think that they were even hinting at censoring me — they went out of their way to help me understand that we’re an opinionated company, and not one of the kinds of companies that censors their employees.”
This is not, in my experience, the kind of support that most PR folks would have given Steve in this situation:) And because of it, this episode, however traumatic, serves as one piece of proof showing that Google’s “default to open” approach is not just aspirational bullshit.
I’m sure there are plenty of places where people could argue that Google is not being open enough, or could stand to be more open than they are today.
But in this particular case, in a moment of crisis—where many weaker leaders would have given in to the frightened urge to attempt a cover up—Google stood by its core beliefs and defaulted to open.
While openness is sometimes ugly and painful (as it certainly is in this case), it often allows great opportunities to emerge that would otherwise never see the light of day.
I suspect that when the waters recede, this authentic, beautiful, and raw piece of communication might be the starting point toward something better, not just within Google, but in the tech industry as a whole.
And for supporting openness, even in its most painful form, Google PR team, I salute you.
On opensource.com, we often talk about the benefits of an open, collaborative approach, and I see new stories every day that help showcase the benefits of an open organizational model.
But for public companies, the benefits of an open approach are often overshadowed by the risks. During my time at Red Hat (a publicly-traded company for much of my tenure), our approach was traditionally to “default to open,” sharing as much information as we could, both inside the company and with the outside world.
Yet, as a public company, there were many financial and legal obstacles that stood in the way of openness. It was challenging to find the right balance between being open with our thinking and information, yet respectful of the legal and financial responsibilities that come with being a public company.
So it was with great interest that I read Scott Weiss’s recent post about corporate transparency on Ben Horowitz’s blog (also posted at AllThingsD). Scott is now a general partner of Andreessen Horowitz, but was previously the CEO of IronPort, an Internet security company that was acquired by Cisco in 2007.
In his post, Scott talks about making the decision to build an open culture at IronPort, despite the risks:
“…the more that I thought about it, the more I believed that sharing absolutely everything would create massive advantages and that we should live with whatever consequences resulted.”
So he went ahead and did it. Yet, as soon as IronPort began to prepare for its IPO, the company was forced dial back the transparency. I’d encourage you to go check out the post for the full details of how they handled this transition. But the key takeaway at the end of Scott’s piece is one that I could not echo more strongly.
“I believe it was much healthier to set the default to full disclosure while we were private. When you prepare for an IPO, it’s definitely a high-class problem to have to work backwards with concrete reasons to withhold information from the employees. And when that time comes, they totally understand.”
Scott’s right. People totally understand. When you level with them and share as much information as you can by default, then apologize and explain why when you can’t share a piece of information, in my experience, almost everyone will be cool with it.
So if you are working for a company that is thinking about going public one day, and the more conservative folks in your organization are using this as an excuse for not having a more open, collaborative culture, show them Scott’s post.
While complete openness might never be possible in your organization, a respectful, thoughtful default-to-open approach may give you the benefits of an open culture while minimizing the risks.
[This article originally appeared on opensource.com]
It’s a good bet that the next generation of defining companies will have corporate cultures built the open source way– around openness and collaboration, while fostering community and culture that extend outside the company walls.
In fact many of the defining companies of the first decade of this century show these characteristics (with one very notable exception we discussed earlier).
It kind of makes you want to rush in and see if you can change your old style corporate culture and get in on the action. But try to change too fast and your efforts may backfire.
So here are three signs that your corporate culture may not quite be ready for the open source way– and some tips to help you move closer.
[Read the rest of this post over at opensource.com]
After 10 years at Red Hat, I’ll admit I am a little bit out of touch with what the corporate world looks like everywhere else. But after a recent conversation with someone out there in the non-Red Hat universe, I thought I’d pass on a quick tip they found helpful on how to create a more collaborative culture in your organization.
The tip is simple. Default to open. Everywhere.
What does this mean? It means rather than starting from a point where you choose what to share, you start from a point where you chose what not to share.
You begin sharing by default.
A quick example. Our group was lucky enough to (thanks to our talented global facilities director, Craig Youst) have the opportunity to help design our own office space. As part of the space design, we determined that we wanted no offices– everyone would be in a large, open collaborative space.
Everyone had the same sized cubes, and it didn’t matter how much of a muckety-muck you were or weren’t. If you wanted to have a private conversation, the space design included a series of private alcoves, where you could go talk with your doctor, or yell at your wife, or whatever you didn’t want to do in public. But the key is that you had to actively decide when placing a call, do I want to take this in private? Which is counter than the old-skool office design where you had an office with a door, and all conversations were private by default.