Book Review -- Joy, Inc.: How We Built A Workplace People Love

Most of my programming knowledge is constrained to my days of learning Basic on Apple machines and writing choose-your-own-adventure stories. But I do use software and have been a "client" of programmers in the past, so I was not lost in the programming references made by Richard Sheridan, cofounder and CEO, Menlo Innovations, in his book Joy, Inc: How We Built a Workplace People Love. Sheridan is also remarkably good at keeping his descriptions of the actual work programmers do completely understandable for the "stupid user."

The fascinating part of this book is how Sheridan took a business model that wasn't working, completely shut it down and built it back up in a way that worked for his team and allowed them to focus on the joy of working, instead of all the compromises most employees need to make to get to the part of the job that they love.

After digesting the book, I've tried to figure out what it is that's at the crux of how he created this environment for joy. I think that's it's by using true teamwork to get rid of fear. In other words, entirely eliminating competition and creating an organization that truly works together for one goal.

How does he do it in practice? He uses a concept he calls "pairing", meaning that absolutely no work -- I'm not kidding -- is done on an individual basis. Every programmer works in a team, on one computer, and the teams are shuffled around on a constant basis, so no one becomes a "tower of knowledge." The advantage of working this way is better problem solving and also a flexible work force -- everyone can cover for each other, meaning people can take holiday whenever they want.

Another concept that plays a strong role in his company's philosophy is failing early. Making mistakes fast. Something else that you can only happen once you get rid of fear. 

There is much more to it of course, and I did struggle to see how the work that I do could be structured in a similar way, but it's an interesting concept and could have applications for all groups of people trying to accomplish something.

Transforming the way people -- and organizations -- work isn't easy. The resistance to change is a powerful force. I know lots of people whose companies went to hot desking (having no specific assigned workspace) and it caused significant distress -- I can only imagine how people would feel about having to share a computer at first.

But it clearly works for Menlo Innovations -- more than works. I think what I got most out of this read is that it's important to think about the way to structure work in general to accomplish your goals and not be afraid to completely tear down something that isn't working. And this is always to meet the higher goal of joy. In order do the meaningful work that you love, you have to come up with solutions that give you that space. You can't necessarily get rid of the annoying bits, but how can you structure your work so you have time to focus on the part of it that you enjoy?

I don't have all the answers yet, but at least knowing that someone else has managed it makes me think it's at least possible.

For more recommendations and links to all my book reviews, check out my resources page.

No comments

Back to Top