What’s The Real Deal Behind The One On Paper?


Tuesday, 9.24pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine. – Bruce Lee

I’m trying to understand several conflicting ideas about doing good work.

A friend of mine, a fount of aphorisms, said if you want to go fast go alone and if you want to go far go with company.

The difficulty lies in selecting the company you keep.

In an ideal world everyone would be equal and we’d all pitch in and work for the common good.

But the world isn’t ideal for one very simple reason – transaction costs.

If you’re sitting around a table with four or five others and you raise a toast, you can all clink your glasses together.

If you’re at a large gathering, like a wedding, you can only do it with those close to you.

It takes too much time to do it with everyone.

So, there is a natural need to organise into small groups – and those groups need managing – and the form they take is that of an organisation.

So the traditional way of working always creates hierarchies – of founders, employees, managers, investors…

And the traditional way of keeping these groups working is through contracts and salaries and stakes and incentives.

But, what causes one organisation to succeed and another to fail?

The key is not in the written contract but in the unwritten one in your head – the psychological contract.

There’s a whole bunch of fuzzy factors that go into this – the relationships between you and colleagues, between you and someone in a suit – a boss or an investor – and between teams of people.

It’s a cauldron, a bubbling mass of what you believe, what you expect to get, what you think is happening, what you think you should do and how each other person in the organisation thinks of all those things.

There is also the issue of power – who has it and how they use it.

The test to find out if the stuff in the cauldron is good enough to eat or bitter and putrid is that of fairness.

Do you think you are being fairly treated.

If there is fairness then that leads to trust.

A feeling that you are being treated unfairly leads to a breach.

And the breach shows up in the way you respond.

You can leave the company, hope things will sort themselves out, stop doing your job properly, go in fighting to try and get your way or try to compromise.

But… the breach has still happened. Life isn’t going to be the same again.

One strategy is to never expect anything from anybody – that way you’ll never be disappointed.

Another is to create a market.

Just post what needs doing and let people bid for work and let things sort themselves out.

The problem is that won’t work if the transaction costs are too high – which means if it’s too hard to figure out who to select and use and why.

A better way is to work out what fair looks like and try to work that into your working life.

This is increasingly important in a networked world – one where you come together in swarms to get stuff done.

How do you agree who does what and gets what with each other?

One approach is the idea of Sociocracy.

In this you work in small groups because small groups work well.

These are called circles.

The roles in the circle are created as needed and the people decide who should get which role.

How do they decide?

They use the principle of consent – which means that it’s decided when no one objects.

You don’t need to agree – you just need to agree not to object to the decision.

Addressing objections, it’s argued, makes for better decisions.

If you need more people then you create more circles and coordination happens with circles made up of nominated people from other circles.

But I want to go back to objections.

Maybe the place to start if you want to do something and want to work with someone else is to start by asking for 100% of the company.

What is everyone else’s objection to that?

Or, if you want more flexible working, ask to work from home 5 days a week.

What objections will your boss raise to that?

Maybe doing that – trying to be open and collaborative will help shine a light on what the deal really means for people.

And whether they think it’s fair.

Because in the end that’s all that matters.


Karthik Suresh

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: