"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

In the Hive

I'm in NYC for a spell, and have spent the last two days inside a big ol' corporate office once more. The project is actually pretty interesting, and the people I'm working directly with are great, but the whole experience still gave me a healthy dose of The Fear.

My old friend, mentor and colleague Peter Crawford once pointed out to me that Corporate America is a lot like High School. It's an astute observation. Subsequently, I've come to see this as a common thread in most institutional settings, but having been off and running around politics and other scenes, I'd forgotten just how much the corporation creeps me out.

In part its because the modus operandi cuts against my own passionate (and arguably excessive) intermingling of life and work. It just seems like such a limiting thing, being in this big building, in your little cubicle or office, wearing some outfit, eating lunch in a cafeteria, renting away your days to make some other people rich.

It also irks me how corporations (any bureaucracies, really) tend reward ladder-climbing, don't-rock-the-boat, playing-office-politics type behavior rather than real innovation, drive, results, etc. It's a really different set of values than the world I inhabit most of the time. There are lots of rules about who's allowed to access what; a closed-source approach; personal fiefdoms wrapped in red-tape.

Anyway, it's good -- if a bit dispiriting -- to be reminded that this is how most peoples' work-lives really are. Dispiriting because it makes me momentarily pessimistic about humanity's chances ("this is the best we can do?"), and sad for all the squandered human potential. Good though because it reminds me how lucky I am, and also makes me optimistic based on how much progress is possible.

I fully realize that corporations have grown up to be the things that they are because they do actually work, if only just barely/relatively better than that which came before, and maybe with a little help from an uneven playing field vs smaller entities. But why gripe? I think we're already seeing a shift to more open, dynamic and agile organizational forms, forms which are more fit and efficient and (hopefully) human and fun to be a part of. I think it's going to keep shifting, and I think at the end of it we'll be in a higher gear. I think. I hope. I dream.

Man, I'm tired. Fucking my competition and their foul concoctions of Red Bull and Jagermeister. It's not a good mix with a 6:30AM wake-up call. I needed to blow off some steam though; coming back into the city, full of fear and loathing, low on blood sugar, I'd started to rage at NYC even.

I was down in SOHO replacing my shuffle at the Apple store and the scene was just too much... it was like a mirror world of the corporation: everyone is pretty and "individualistic" but it felt just as hollow, soulless. "Oh come on; this isn't so special; we've got bulimia and pretension back in California too..." Luckily that passed -- spin the Astor place cube; down a slice of pizza; meet up with some friends; things look better -- and my internal gyro got back on track.

So now I'm off to rest. The rest of my week I'll do a more normal work thing for me; getting down to some engineering and sorting out of details. I'll be at Drinking Liberally tomorrow night, and rambling around the city like a savage lumberjack over the weekend. All that and more in a later post.

Also, if you find my life boring, check the sister-pal out. Good stuff, that.


Hey Josh,
I read your post right after watching another in the newest series of BMW ads touting their distaste of top-down philosophy. I read a rather long article about their design and production plant in Bavaria that seems to back it up. There are few people that would argue with BMW's overall quality, so perhaps there's hope yet.

Possibly Frank, but they're German. Quality is met with cult like zeal there and Austria. It seems we're more interested in social sentimentality and organizational status quo here. Maybe that's the cynic in me. Maybe if more small, innovative organizations resisted the all holy "buy-out" we'd be able to get somewhere.

Well, on the "buy out" tip, I know that many many silicon valley or other whizzy-tech startups operate with the more or less explicit goal of either being bought directly, or else doing well enough to cash in with VC money (which sort of amounts to the same thing, usually).

It's a weird cycle, under which your company itself is the product. I don't tend to see it as being very healthy, generally.

I agree and see it where I work. We were started by a venture capital firm, and have been going on 10 years now with the explicit goal of being bought out. Sometimes an IPO is mentioned, but wholly acknowledged as a strategy and bargaining chip for a buy out. At our last quarterly, the CEO even dropped the MS name, for what it's worth. This kind of system promotes innovation and efficiency as so far that it gets you noticed by a large corporation who will then co-opt your successful ideas and processes into its own monolithic operations. All this does is take on your previous clients, and possibly some of your successful operating procedures while dulling, if not fully, negating the intricacies that made you successful in the first place. So, I think the real drive for new, dynamic, inspired thinking will come from driven, independents who are in it for the long haul, instead of the money, which isn't all that new I guess.

Our sabotage chapter three w/ booze plan is working!