New Kind

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What ‘default to open’ looks like at New Kind


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 other day I was sitting in the New Kind office, and was inspired to take the picture you see here. I thought it did a nice job capturing what ‘default to open’ looks like at New Kind.

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!

Ad-Free Brand Challenge #1: A picture is worth 1000 words


Over the past few weeks, I’ve had folks share sightings of my book The Ad-Free Brand in Malaysia and Singapore, which was super cool. Since I love to travel and see new places, but can’t do it as much as I like, I thought I’d issue a challenge and see if I could convince anyone to take me up on it.

The Ad-Free Brand, spotted in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Here’s the challenge: If you have a copy of The Ad-Free Brand in your possession, take a picture of it for me.

In what context? That’s for you to decide. I’d just love to see the book in a setting other than our office here at New Kind.

Do you live in some cool place you think I might have never seen before? Go to a local landmark and take a picture of you or a friend and the book in front of it. Do you run a business? Send me a picture that showcases both the book and your office or building.

Take a picture from your favorite hangout spot. Take the book on vacation with you and send me a picture from there. Take a picture of the book performing a death-defying stunt. Dress it up in drag, I don’t care.

I’d love to see whatever creative idea you have. Bonus points if your picture helps communicate a concept behind the book.

So what’s in it for you? If I receive some cool pictures (and I have no idea if anyone will actually take me up on this), I’ll write a blog post featuring each picture and the person who captured it.

In this post, I’ll share not only the picture, but also some details about you: where you are from, what you are passionate about, why you took the picture, and whatever else you’d like to share. Also, if you have something that you think people who check out my blog might be interested in, perhaps it is your own blog, your business, a charitable cause you are passionate about, or a project you think people might be interested in joining, whatever, I’d love to help point some people to it.

I don’t have any strict policies or rules for this challenge (after all, New Kind has a tightly-enforced No Policy Policy), but I do have some friendly suggestions that you should consider:

– Ensure that anyone featured in the photo is OK with it being shown on this blog.

– Don’t send pictures that may offend my readers (but don’t worry about offending me, that’s fine).

– Don’t hurt or desecrate the book unless it is totally worth it.

– Be sure to include not just the book itself, but some context in the picture so people might be able to guess where you took it (in case it isn’t totally obvious). I may want to do some Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego-type games if the opportunity arises.

– Even if you think you live in a place you think is totally boring, take a picture anyway. Find a spot to take the picture that says something meaningful about your town or that shows off your own personality or tastes.

So that’s pretty much the challenge. If you want to take me up on it, send your picture to me at chris(at)newkind.com along with the following information:

1. Your name, email, and other contact info (Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)
2. Place where you took the picture
3. Any information about yourself or things you are passionate about that you’d like to share (including your blog, company information, a project, charity, or whatever else you think might be relevant)

There is no deadline for entry. Just send your picture whenever you have it.

Happy photographing!

De-bucketizing the org chart


Over the years, I’ve picked up an unhealthy understanding of the language of business. Years of sitting in big corporate meetings will do that to you, unfortunately.

Here at New Kind, my business partners will still call me out for talking about “action items,” saying something is in our “wheelhouse,” or jumping straight to the “net-net.”

But perhaps the business term I love to hate the most is the word bucketize, which I’d translate as “to organize into broad categories.” Common usage might include statements like the following:

“I’m going to bucketize these requirements.”

or

“We’ve bucketized the skillsets we need for this project.”

It’s not just the word that I dislike either, but the entire concept of bucketizing things, which often means taking complex relationships and oversimplifying them in order to fit into broad buckets designed to hold everything except much meaning. Bucketizing often puts things into silos (another favorite business word), destroying valuable connections between ideas, tasks, or people ending up in, well, different buckets.

Perhaps the most egregious example of corporate bucketizing for me is the typical corporate org chart, which looks something like this.

In most organizations, each person sitting at the executive table has their own employee bucket. As an executive, you are often motivated to fill your bucket with as many people as possible, because the more people you have working for you, the more power you control in the organization.

The problem? The org chart is an oversimplified, semi-fictional construct.

It rarely represents an accurate view of the complex web of working relationships found within an organization where people in different buckets communicate and work with each other all of the time. Yet, even though it is mostly fiction, the org chart often creates real power for executives to wield.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

My newest hobby: hacking management


My first blog post went up today on the Management Innovation Exchange (MIX).

The MIX is the brainchild of Gary Hamel, author of one of my favorite management books of the last 10 years, The Future of Management, and the guy who the Wall Street Journal ranked as the most influential business thinker in the world.

The thesis of the MIX is that management itself has been a fantastic innovation— the “technology of human accomplishment” to use Hamel’s words. Yet for all management has done to improve the world we live in, it is technology invented over 100 years ago, and old skool management practices are becoming increasingly outdated in the modern world (Gary Hamel explains this all better than I do, watch his short introduction to the MIX below).

The MIX is an open, collaborative effort to reinvent management built around 25 management “moonshots” (see the full list here). In addition to Hamel, there are some amazing folks contributing to the site, including famous visionaries like Terri Kelly of W.L. Gore & Associates and John Mackey of Whole Foods.

But perhaps the most exciting part of the site for me has been to see that it is built as a meritocracy of ideas, where anyone can add a story, a hack, or a barrier. And many do. I’ve seen some amazing ideas as I’ve begun to participate in the MIX over the last few months and can’t wait to point some of them out in my role as a Moonshot Guide.

In particular, I’ll be tackling the moonshot “Enable communities of passion” building on my experiences at Red Hat and here at New Kind as we continue to build a company around the concept of being community catalysts.

So if you have ideas for things you think I should cover, drop me a line, I’d love to hear them.

The open source organization: good in theory or good in reality?


On occasion I get the opportunity to speak publicly about some of the things I’ve learned over the years applying the open source way in organizations.

In almost every case, when the Q&A session arrives, I’m greeted with at least one question from a poor soul who loves the idea of applying the open source way to management and culture, but doesn’t think it would ever work in his/her specific organization. Usually the comment is accompanied by some horror story about an evil co-worker, hierarchical boss, crappy HR policy, or some other impediment that would cause the open source way to fail.

And the sad truth? These folks are probably right. Many of these concepts wouldn’t work in their organizations.

So why do I waste my time talking about things that may not work in many organizations? Two reasons:

1) hope

2) the wind

Hope

Let me be honest. I’ve never run into a perfect model of the open source way in practice (if you have, please point it out to me!).

There are clearly some organizations that have figured out how to build open source principles into their DNA better than others. Wikipedia is a good example. The Fedora Project is another. Still, my guess is the people who are deeply involved in those projects on a daily basis would probably be able to show you some warts, places where old-skool practices are still evident.

We’ve set our company New Kind up as a corporate lab for the open source way. But we can’t make a case for perfection here either. We are still learning and prototyping.

So why not be more realistic? Why not give up and accept that some of these principles work better in theory than they do in practice?

Simple: I have hope.

What gives me hope? Two things. First, I have seen first-hand many examples of great things that happen when open source principles are applied within organizations. From the collaboratively-designed mission of Red Hat to the work of Fedora marketing team, I’ve personally witnessed the power of open source principles in action.

Second, I believe in the pursuit of perfection. Why not aspire to create better companies than we have today? What do we have to lose? I don’t know that we will ever see a perfect open source company. But by pursuing perfection, we are likely to get a heck of a lot closer than where we are today.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Does your organization need a “no policy” policy?


Daniel Pink published an interesting piece over the weekend in The Telegraph about Netflix‘s innovative corporate policy of not having a vacation policy.

Meaning, employees don’t have a set number of days they get off each year, but instead can take vacation whenever they want. From the article:

At Netflix, the vacation policy is audaciously simple and simply audacious. Salaried employees can take as much time off as they’d like, whenever they want to take it. Nobody – not employees themselves, not managers – tracks vacation days. In other words, Netflix’s holiday policy is to have no policy at all.

This may sound like a recipe for disaster to you, but it hasn’t turned out that way for Netflix. In fact, as the rest of article highlights, not having a lot of corporate policies may be a fantastic strategy for engaging 21st century workers.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Do you aspire to build a brand community or a community brand?


In my day job at New Kind, I spend quite a bit of my time working on brand-related assignments, particularly for organizations interested in community-based approaches to building their brands.

When marrying the art of community building to the art of brand building, it’s hard not to talk about building “brand communities.” It’s a convenient term, and brand experts love to trot out examples like Harley Davidson and Apple as examples of thriving communities built around brands.

The term “brand community” even has its own Wikipedia page (definition: “a community formed on the basis of attachment to a product or marque”). Harvard Business Review writes about brand communities. Guy Kawasaki writes about brand communities.

Yet almost every article I’ve read about building “brand communities” shares a common trait:

They are all written by brand people for brand people.

The result? Articles focusing on what’s in it for the brands (and the companies behind them), not what’s in it for the communities. Learn how to build a brand community so your company will succeed, not so a community will succeed.

Typical corporate thinking.

What if we turned things on their heads for a second and changed the words around? What if, instead of “brand community,” the phrase du jour was “community brand?”

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Can truly great design be done the open source way?


A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about Apple and open innovation. The discussion in the comments about Apple’s success, despite their non-openness, was pretty interesting. Greg DeKoenigsberg started things off with this salvo:

“No community could build something as gorgeous as the iPhone; it requires the singular vision of a beautiful fascist, and the resources of a gigantic company, and a world full of users who would happily trade simplicity and certainty for the ability to tinker.”

I think few people would argue that one of Apple’s greatest strengths is their amazingly consistent, and consistently beautiful, design work. And when I say design, I mean both “little d design” (their stuff looks awesome) and “big D Design” (their systems, processes, and experiences are expertly rendered).

From a design perspective, Apple has figured out how to make lightning strike in the same place over and over again.

Today, I want to ask a question that I’ve been thinking about for a long time:

Can truly great design be done the open source way?

Meaning, can a group of people designing collaboratively, out in the open, ever do the kind of consistently beautiful design work that Apple does? Or is Greg right, that “no community could build something as gorgeous as the iPhone”?

Both of my partners at New Kind, David Burney and Matt Muñoz, are designers by background. Both of them have significant open source experience (David spent almost 5 years as the VP of Communications at Red Hat, Matt worked on many Red Hat projects, including designing the Fedora logo), so the three of us have talked about this subject many times before.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Introducing opensource.com


One of the things I’m most excited about as I start my new job at New Kind is that I have the opportunity to continue to do work with Red Hat. Today, in the spirit of release early, release often, Red Hat opened the doors to a new website, opensource.com. In addition to my work here at Dark Matter Matters, I’ll also be writing for the Business channel of opensource.com.

So what is opensource.com?

It is the beginning of a conversation about how the world can apply the lessons of the open source way broadly– in business, in government, in education, in the law, and generally in our lives. Unlike most other open source sites, it is not just about software. From the site:

The term open source began as a way to describe software source code and the collaborative model for how it’s developed. Red Hat used this model for developing technology and built a business model around open source and its principles: Openness. Transparency. Collaboration. Diversity. Rapid prototyping… The open source way is more than a development model; it defines the characteristics of a culture.

Although this site was started by Red Hat, it is not intended to be a Red Hat site, but rather a site where the open source conversation is extended to all companies and organizations, even beyond the technology industry. Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst states it really well in his introductory post:

Continue reading

2010: New year, new job, New Kind


Well folks, there are gonna be some changes around here in 2010. So let me cut to the chase.

After 10 1/2 years, I’m leaving my full-time position with the greatest open source company in the world later this month.

This was no easy call. Red Hat has been a fantastic ride. I’ll spare you the trip down memory lane, but Red Hat has been the defining job of my career.

I certainly wouldn’t leave Red Hat to join another big company. In fact, thanks to DeLisa Alexander, my wonderful boss, and Jeff Mackanic, my long-time partner in running the Brand Communications + Design group, I’m going to continue to work with Red Hat– just in a different capacity. More on this later.

I’ve always wanted to start my own company, see how entrepreneurship fits, and have never had a good opportunity before. In 2010 I believe we are entering one of the most exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs in decades. I aim to give it a go.

As folks who’ve been reading Dark Matter Matters know, I have a deep interest in seeing how the lessons of open source might be applied to companies outside of the technology industry. I’m excited about taking some of the principles we’ve used to build brand, culture, and community the open source way at Red Hat and finding other companies who could use them too.

To that end, the news that won’t be a surprise to folks who know me well: I’ve decided to join up with two of my best friends, David Burney and Matt Munoz, who have spent the last year building a new kind of communications firm– New Kind.

David and I have worked together for almost 10 years, first when he owned Burney Design and was Red Hat’s creative agency partner, then as my boss at Red Hat for 4+ years. And, of course, he and I still play together in our band The Swingin’ Johnsons.

Matt and I first met while he was working on the Red Hat account at CapStrat. He was an early architect of the modern Red Hat brand identity, leading projects like the Red Hat brand book and the Fedora logo design.

As for New Kind, we have a lot of ideas.

So rather than stretching this post too long, I’ll promise to continue to share my ideas here at Dark Matter Matters if you promise to continue to read.

Thanks to my amazing Red Hat family, especially my brothers and sisters in the Brand Communications + Design team, for 10 great years. The hardest part of this decision was knowing I would no longer be sitting beside you five days a week.

Happy new year, and thanks to each of you for making the first year of Dark Matter Matters a special one.

A New Kind awaits!

Hey, I Wrote a Book!

The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

Available now in print and electronic versions.

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