Joy, Inc.

Sheridan, Richard. (2013).  Joy, Inc.  New York:  Penguin

NOTE:  There are many more examples and procedures that are applicable to education than I have identified in this summary.

Menlo Innovations has the best PLC I have seen. The goal is to create a place where people are excited to come to work on a daily basis. Some author always has a plan to do better.  Think of all the programs that have come and gone in education. How many had the impact they touted?

My belief is that most programs suffer from ‘lethal mutations.’ We go to training, get good information, get excited about the possibilities, and return to our school sites.  Think of all the workshops on PLCs.  Upon returning back to our school, those who were not in the workshop, think we are talking a foreign language.

Here are few quotes from early in the book.

  • You need the energy from the edges, not the middle. How do we treat outliers or creatives in our schools?
  • The Where Is Just as Important as the What. How do we create the same excitement and passion in our home sites as we experience in the workshop locations?
  • As you consider your own aspirations for cultural change, don’t lose sight of how important it is to draw others into the energy and excitement. Can you be a catalyst for new thinking to existing problems?
  • A Critical Test of Leadership – the biggest obstacle to change: fear of the unknown. In an earlier ‘New Rule’ I addressed VUCA. Read it.

So Richard Sheridan was looking for creating an organization with meaningful change. He tried to think of new rewards of doing things differently.  Here are some of them.

  • Products that worked and shipped on time without drama
  • Offerings that would be enjoyably used by the target users
  • Belonging to a real team rather than just a department on an org chart
  • The opportunity to learn something new every day
  • The feeling of actually being supported by their peers
  • An unprecedented level of engagement with the business
  • A department of “Embrace change” rather than “No and slow”
  • Energy. Excitement. Everything we really wanted from this profession

Think of it, learning without drama from kids, colleagues, or community

I hope that leaders are starting to get the message – Staying the same ain’t going to work.  One of my favorite quotes is, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”  John A. Shedd

Space and Noise

“First we shape our buildings, then they shape us.” Winston Churchill.

Tear Down the Walls – Our office has no walls, offices, cubes, or doors (with the few obvious exceptions for physical security and Bathroom privacy). Our work surfaces consist of dozens of lightweight, five-foot aluminum tables with one computer on each. The tables are pushed close together, and the people working at them—two to a computer—sit even closer.

Changing the layout typically occurs for two reasons.

  1. The first is out of necessity: if a new project starts or an existing one is expanded, the tables are rearranged to accommodate the new work.
  2. The second reason for rearranging is a change for the sake of change. If projects have been in the same part of the factory for too many weeks, the team spends a few hours rearranging tables and computers just to shake things up.

Humans crave interpersonal contact and rely on nonverbal cues much more than formal language. A space like ours encourages human interaction in its many forms.

“In the long run, the only sustainable source of competitive advantage is your organization’s ability to learn faster than your competition.”  Peter Senge

Because teams of two work in collaboration, they have great opportunities to learn from each other.  Two Heads, Two Hearts, Four Hands, One Computer. Learning happens every minute of every day while actual work is being done. One person in the pair teaches her new partner what she learned the previous week. The pairs teach and question one another, expanding on one another’s knowledge in the process.

Learning how to learn fast, and as a group, is where our organization shines. Tear Down Towers of Knowledge. Pairing, by its nature, eliminates knowledge hoarding. Pairing Pushes Personal Growth. Good pair partners must be teachers as well as students.

The Lunch ‘n Learn. We are both teachers and students in a paired arrangement, but Menlo also offers other learning opportunities beyond the two-person team. At least once a week we host an organized “Lunch ‘n Learn.” What we discovered is that important learning happens in the pairs rather quickly, but the knowledge transfer to the rest of the team can be slow.

Sheridan reflects on the usual Monday morning meetings.  What did you do last week? What is on the docket this week?  Are you attaining your goals?  Yadda Yadda Yadda.  No one wanted to be there. He came late one day and asked if they had the meeting.  The response was we waited ten minutes and decided to get back to work.  Duh.

This revealed an important truth: meetings like these are unnecessary. If you have meetings scheduled with your team, and they behave the way I’ve just described, then kill the meeting. At Menlo, we have eliminated unproductive, joyless meetings from our process. We have replaced rules, bureaucracy, and hierarchy with predictable rituals, ceremonies, and storytelling events.

The Daily Standup. Our daily standup occurs every day at ten a.m., regardless of who is in the room. It almost always finishes in thirteen minutes or less, even if the group is as large as fifty or sixty people. Everyone stands up and gathers in a rough circle to report out to the group. Someone grabs a Viking helmet to start the meeting. The pair partners holding the helmet describe what they are working on and where they might need help. The helmet is passed to the next pair in the circle, all the way around. The last pa closes with “Be careful out there.” This ends the daily standup.

When we communicate with each other inside the company, we don’t use e-mail or other forms of electronic communication. We’ve developed a far more efficient method of communication that we call High-Speed Voice Technology. The hardware comes preinstalled: vocal cords, body language, tonal inflection, eyebrows, and facial expressions. Similarly, the receiver comes with tympanic membranes and cleverly designed auditory nerve stimulation of the brain.

The majority of our team self-identify as introverts. This makes sense to me for several reasons:

  • Introversion supports the deep thinking needed to solve complex problems.
  • Introverts prefer fewer, deeper relationships.
  • Introverts are often better, active listeners.

Every organization has to predict the future based on incomplete information. What is amazing, when I visited Menlo, was they track the progress of projects on paper, with string and sticky dots.  High tech for sure.  HA.  And, the progress is visible for all to see. Visible Artifacts Encourage Cooperation. The bedrock of our culture is represented by the biggest and oldest poster in our room: “Make Mistakes Faster.” Storytelling Is a Cultural Conversation.

There is a great chapter on hiring practices.  Each potential hire comes to work with a team.         The observers watch how each person contributes to problem-solving, how they share, how they argue, how they collaborate, and whether they actually get something done. Throughout it, the observers are asking themselves:

  • Would I like to pair with this person for a week?
  • Would I feel supported if I were struggling?
  • Would I be able to support them and would they listen if I did?
  • Would I learn something from this person?
  • Would they help me grow?

Second Round: Do Real Work. If a candidate makes it through to the second interview, he or she comes in alone for an entire day. We give the person a one-day paid contract to work on a real client project all day. We watch to see whether the candidate is curious, asking questions and learning on the fly, while translating his or her expertise into this unknown territory. They find out quickly whether or not this person is going to fit the cultures.

At Menlo, we are looking for able learners with curiosity. We can teach skills all day long.

  • We’re never “stuck” with someone who is dragging us down, hurting the team.
  • There is joy from the very beginning as the team is getting to help mentor new people.
  • I find a lot of joy in the Extreme Interview events for the social aspect of it, just getting to hang out with the team, and there are always lots of laughs as we self-reflect on our own faults when we are sharing our feedback on all the candidates.

The following is something we in education might start taking more seriously rather than what politicians believe is most important.  Test scores, really? There are lots of talented people getting ready for the future who don’t care much about PISA scores.

“If you try to build any product or service to make it work for everyone, it won’t work well for anyone in particular, and you will get killed in the market.”

I like the following sentence. Please think through the education lens. We were looking to see whether the end user would know how to use it without help. It’s not that simple. We choose the tools we believe work better for humans. Design for Living. Whatever you do for a living, design plays a role.

What do we look for in new hires?

  • Great observation skills
  • The ability to sit quietly at times
  • A “make mistakes faster” attitude
  • User interface design skills
  • Ability to draw with crayons and markers
  • Ability to use Post-it notes
  • Expertise in Photoshop (ironically, a very complicated piece of software from Adobe)
  • Empathy
  • Ability to deal with ambiguity and abstraction Ability to create with specificity and exactness

Knowing how to code is not a requirement.

Fight, Fear, Embrace Change

Fear is the mind-killer.” Bene Gesserit

How would this be as an organizational belief? Fear is one of the biggest killers of joy. Freedom from fear requires feeling safe. If you feel safe, you run experiments. You stop asking permission. You avoid long, mind-numbing meetings. You create a new kind of culture in which you accept that mistakes are inevitable. You learn that small, fast mistakes are preferable to the big, slow, deadly mistakes you are making today.

Leadership is on the minds of everyone these days.  I really liked this quote from the book. We seek to grow leaders who act like gentle teachers rather than schoolyard bullies.

“We cannot hope to create a sustainable culture with any but sustainable souls.”     Derrick Jensen

Humans have a good instinct for fairness and will rebel, often silently when their fairness meter detects an unethical imbalance. Without trust and commitment all around the accountability table, accountability doesn’t produce results.

This journey to joy at work is personal. It has to be. You want a job or an organization that brings you joy. You want to enjoy that “good kind of tired” at the end of each day, knowing you made your life just a little bit better today.