In which I announce that I think I have a crush….

I don’t think I’ve read my entire employee manual but last night I sat down and read the employee manual of another company.

The Valve employee manual was shared on Boingboing recently and I’m not sure how to react.  Can a company really be run this way?  No hierarchy? No set roles? A desire to not be in a constant reactive mode?  Employees treated like adults?

No! It can’t be true!

Really, take a look at this.  It’s worth your time.  Not just content but also tone.

And here’s where I think intelligence shops should be looking for inspiration.  Not towards the military or law enforcement…or even the bureaucratic intelligence agencies in D.C.  For the most part they neither encourage or reward the sort of thinking and work that is required to do intelligence analysis in many cases.  Companies like this, that work with information and knowledge have to have a different model from Henry Ford’s Widget-o-Rama(tm).

And that’s because intelligence analysis falls into two broad categories.  The first is fine for incremental changes in the environment.  In all fairness, this accounts for most of the intelligence work that’s done and you can do an adequate job within existing structures.

The second, however, we don’t have that good of a record with.  That is for larger shifts in the environment…foreseeable but radically different.  The fall of the Soviet Union, 9/11, the effects of the introduction of crack cocaine on violent crime.  For these sorts of things, there’s just no incentive to look at this sort of thing.  Even if there was, the organizations which could do them can’t.  There are too many layers of approval…too many people who are too risk averse…too much centralization of decision making authority.

Even if agencies don’t convert themselves into Valve-like utopias, there are ideas worth considering for any intelligence shop.  For example:

…hiring lower-powered people is a natural response to having so much work to get done. In these conditions, hiring someone who is at least capable seems (in the short term) to be smarter than not hiring anyone at all. But that’s actually a huge mistake.

It’s interesting to see what Valve says its system doesn’t do well (and by the way…You aren’t likely to see many shops put their shortfalls right in their employee handbook like Valve did.  Many just don’t have that level of self-awareness.)  The things are very similar to what you’d hear in more traditional workplaces:  poor mentoring (what’s a mentor?), disseminating information internally, making predictions more than a few months out.  Just the act of identifying those shortfalls and putting them front and center is valuable as its another way the organization can tell everyone what it considers important and wants to improve.  Ideally, it should inspire people to try to improve those shortcomings.

And yet…

So…off I go to cry myself to sleep.

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