The Year Without Pants Gets You Putting on Your Thinking Cap

published on August 18, 2014 | tagged in:

When we think of the workplace, we have this stereotype idea of what it should be like. Office hours, office attire, a work desk, a cubicle, the water cooler, and so forth and so on. It’s the typical scenario. It’s tradition. But, times are changing. The work environment is changing. The “acceptable” workplace is changing.

In the book, The Year Without Pants, author Scott Berkun shares what it was like to work for a company that isn’t traditional at all. He worked for more than two years with Automattic – the company that runs WordPress.com and WordPress.org and there is much to glean from his personal experiences and the insights he gained while he worked there. Here are a few excerpts taken from the book to whet your curiousity.

The Work Place

On Hiring,

“There are no formal interviews for positions at the company. No one asks trick questions like why manhole covers are round or how many Ping-Pong balls fit on a 747 airplane. Instead they hire by trial. This means you are asked to do a simple project. You get access to real tools and work on real things. If you do well, you’re offered a job. If you don’t, you’re not.

The many phony parts of hiring, from inflated résumés to trying to say what you think the other party wants to hear, disappear.”

On Corporate Culture,

“No technique, no matter how good, can turn stupid coworkers into smart ones. And no method can magically make employees trust each other or their boss if they have good reason not to.”

“The best approach, perhaps the only approach, is an honest examination of culture. But culture is harder to understand than a meeting technique or a creativity method. ”

“Product creators are the true talent of any corporation, especially one claiming to bet on innovation. The other roles don’t create products and should be there to serve those who do.”

On Meetings,

“There is nothing wrong with the concept of a meeting. If the people in a meeting think it’s a waste of time, then either they’re the wrong people or what’s being discussed is not important enough to justify a meeting. I knew if I kept our meetings on important decisions and little else, we’d do fine, whether in person or online.”

On Company Retreats,

“The big bet of many retreats is the location. The hope is that a resort in the woods or a trip to a special city will provide a fresh environment away from the daily routines, a change that stimulates new thinking. But they forget the most important thing that location cannot change: the company culture. No matter where they go, they take dozens of forgotten assumptions about how work is done along with them. The more an event is driven by the people in power, the more it will reinforce the status quo. This is why these big meetings start with promises of growth and innovation and end with a vague sense of disappointment. ”

On Innovation,

“The fundamental mistake companies that talk about innovation make is keeping barriers to entry high. They make it hard to even try out ideas, blind to how much experimentation you need to sort the good ideas from the bad.”

On Team Dynamics,

“There are many theories about why teams of four to six work best, but the simplest is ego. With about five people, there’s always enough oxygen in the room. It means on average that every person gets to speak once every five times, which is enough for everyone to feel they are at the center of things. At this level of participation, their pride can be invested in the team instead of focused inwardly on themselves.”

“How do you know if you’re doing a good job? They (Team Social) all shrugged simultaneously and I laughed. Unlike most corporations that emphasize performance evaluations, none of them were particularly concerned. It had never been an emphasized part of their experience at the company. It seemed to them like an odd question to even ask, given how rarely it came up with Mullenweg or Toni, or in the company at large. It was not a promotion-oriented culture. Instead they cared mostly about how much value they were getting out of the work. ”

The Year Without Pants, an Amazon Best Book of The Year released in September 2013, was written by best-selling author and sought after speaker, Scott Berkun. Scott Berkun has worked at Microsoft from 1994 to 2003, mostly on Internet Explorer 1.0 to 5.0 (not 6), and has worked as a team leader for Automattic on WordPress.com from 2010 to 2012.

His other works include Confessions of a Public Speaker, The Myths of Innovation, and Making Things Happen. His work as a writer and public speaker have appeared in the The Washington Post, The New York Times, Wired Magazine, Fast Company, Forbes Magazine, and other media. He has taught creative thinking at the University of Washington and has been a regular commentator on CNBC, MSNBC and National Public Radio.

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