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Corporate CULTure: or How I learned to stop worrying and blessed the grind πŸ”—
1623278927  

A bizarre phenomenon in modern Corporations is what is generally referred to as "Playing House"; this would have been referred to in earlier times as "putting on airs". You may have noticed I've mentioned this in multiple of my earlier videos.

Generally this will mean things like Advertising how amazing your company is rather than the utility or desirability of your products. When I was young my father would point out such things to me; he generally considered it a sign of weakness in a firm, as it meant they didn't have any better ideas on what to advertise. While this is indeed true, it's not because they have no good ideas but because their idea is to sell the company.

In earlier times before Social Media, it was generally only firms which wished to be bought (or were publicly traded) which engaged in this behavior. However, now that everything is branding, practically every company plays the game unless they are largely immune to market forces.

Even then, large hegemonic institutions still do this, as it tends to be the cheapest way to purchase influence and legitimacy. See the Postscript on the Societies of Control by Deleuze for why this is. You see ridiculosity such as videos of soldiers dancing the macarena with the hapless peasants whose countries they occupy because of this.

Reinforcing that trend is that the corporate environment is almost always the same as the large hegemonic institutions, just in miniature. They tend to "ape their betters" as yet another way of demonstrating higher value.

However, "Clout Chasing" (also known as the "maximizing reach" marketing model -- see Rory Sutherland on this here) has largely reached the point of diminishing returns. This model is generally feast-or-famine; Understanding this makes you realize why the FAANG stocks are nearly a fifth of the S&P market cap. Yet many continue to willingly barrel into a game with an obvious pareto distribution without the slightest clue "what it takes" to actually enter that rarified stratosphere.

So, they make the same mistake of so many others by thinking "oh, I'll just look like the top 20% and it'll work, right?" Few understand that luxury brands are built by being different from everything else, which also means your company culture has to be different too. So, they hire an army of "Scrum Consultants", "Facilitators" and Managers to fit their dollop of the workforce into Procrustes' Bed. Millions of wasted hours in meetings and "Team Building" exercises later, the ownership starts wondering why it is their margins keep going down and that they have trouble retaining top talent.

It's the same story in the Hegemonic Institutions; Muth's Command Culture describes in great detail how the US Army (and eventually the Prussians too!) made the mistake of thinking the structure of the Prussian military was why it won, when in reality it was their highly skilled people and a lack of organizational barriers to their pursuit of success. The Map is not the territory, as they say.

All institutions are only as successful and righteous as their members can allow them to be. Most skilled people rarely consider exit until institutional barriers prove to hinder their ability to excel (which is freedom -- the ability to self-actualize). The trouble is that optimizing for Clout and Reach means that all controversial thought must be purged, as Guilt by Association is considered a lethal risk to your reach.

In reality it actually isn't -- "Love me, Hate me, but Don't Forget me" is actually the maxim which should be adopted; Oracle would have long since shuttered if having a negative reputation had anything to do with your reach. Being a source of Indignation is as effective as being a source of Comfort to build reach.

However this is not a common strategy due to the fact that most employees don't want to feel like they work for a devil. So, we instead get this elaborate maze of mission statements, team building and "CULTure" to brainwash the drones into believing whatever the company does is the "right thing" TM. Any employees who look at things objectively are demonized as being "Toxic" and "Negative" and ultimately pushed out.

The trouble with this is that the most effective people only get that way by seeing the world for what it is, and then navigating appropriately. When put into an environment where they know they cannot freely express themselves this is a high default level of friction that means they'll be ready to bolt or blow up over minor things. It takes but a straw to overburden a person walking upon eggshells.

From the perspective of the effective worker, most corporate simply looks like a crab bucket. Any person who tries to excel (make it to the top of the bucket and possibly out) is immediately grabbed by the other crabs and forced back down into their little hell. This is horrific for productivity, as it means the organization is not pulling forward, but in all directions (which means they are effectively adrift).

Which brings us back to the whole "lack of better ideas than getting sold" thing. This condition is actually tolerable when attempting to sell a firm; prospective buyers rarely care about the opinions or conditions of the line workers. But with the advent of this being 24/7 365 for nearly all firms and institutions this stultification has become inescapable save for under the ministrations of "Turnaround Capital". These firms buy cheap and hated firms, stop playing house and start making money by unleashing their people to be productive. They don't have to resort to the usual nonsense because turning a failure into a success is enough of a demonstration of higher value.

Given enough time though, all companies have their growth level off and become boring. This is when these veblenesque measures take hold, as familiarity is lethal to attraction (building that is the essence of sales). It's like secondary sex characteristics for figments of our imagination which are legally people.

It's that last bit that's where the rub lies and why it all goes so wrong. The Principal-Agent problem is fundamentally why the people running firms end up screwing up their charge worse than child beauty pageant contestants. The whole reputational protection of the employees (need to see themselves as good) referred to earlier is one such case.

Here are a few others (list is by no means complete):

Stock Buybacks:
If the argument used that "there is no better use of our money than to speculate in our own stock" (WOW what a flex) were actually true, they'd issue a dividend and tell their shareholders as much. The fact that this is not what is done tells you most of what you want to know. The reality has to do with an executive team's compensation tied to share price.

Shiny new Office:
While workers tend to expect a minimum level of comfort, the level required for high performance to take hold is far lower than believed. Repeated study has shown there to be little difference in productivity for nonwork facilities such as cafeterias, break rooms, gyms and game rooms. The actual reason is that the agents want more a social club, and to attract different types of (read: nonproductive) workers, as essentially paid friends.

Core Values, COCs, etc
It is worth noting that the pursuit of profit or regard for shareholders and customers is almost never in any of these statements. Rather than assume you are working with adults who can figure their intrapersonal problems out, let us build a procrustes' bed so that we'll never have any problems! This kind of contract to adhere to vague values (which frequently contradict religious convictions and are immaterial to the work) can never be seen as anything but an unconscionable contract of adhesion.

It is very similar to the ridiculous "Covert Contract" concept (If I do X in Y emotional relationship it will be trouble free), and nobody is shocked at it's repeated failure. Nevertheless endless amounts of time is wasted on nonsense like this which ultimately serves only as more roadblocks to productivity (and thus impetus for the productive to exit). Similarly, many lower status employees use it as a club against higher status ones; this is the essence of the crab bucket.

For example, a common theme in CoCs & "Values" statements is that colleagues must be shown "respect" of which the level is never clearly defined. It then becomes a mystery why bad ideas proliferate as "well golly gee we gotta respect everyone" regardless of whether such respect is merited or not.

This sort of application of the "reach" marketing philosophy (I have a hammer, everything is a nail) is especially ridiculous here. Let us be so open minded our brains fall right out. Let us be so approachable that we get mugged in broad daylight. Let us kowtow to our agents (especially the lawyers) such that our shareholders are ruined.

Were people rational about these things, they would simply insure employees against lawsuits resulting from interpersonal conflicts and move on. It'd be a lot cheaper than letting lawyers strangle your corporation with rules. It would also still weed out the truly troublesome via excessive premium increases. However, that acknowledges human nature and imperfection, which is not how the agents want to see themselves -- they are all angels, and like to virtue-signal. Management sees all this money they are "saving" avoiding lawsuits but forget the money left on the table by the talent which left or was forced out.

Ultimately all these statements of virtue are actually signals of luxury and lesiure (abundance). People in conditions of scarcity cannot afford to let principle get in the way of profit. Which makes many of these things emanating from firms with high Debt to Income ratios, triple digit P/Es and yield below 1% seem quite bizarre.

There are a few other dubiously useful things like offsite meetings and dinners, but that can be reasonably justified as compensation (but that avoids taxation, yay). The most complete picture of the situation was written when I was but four years old: The Suicidal Corporation. Give it a gander when you get a chance.

Knowing all this, what then shall we do? By and large, the productive have chosen exit or been forced into entrepeneurship. The whole "rise of the hustle economy" is pretty much exactly this. Instead of the corporate strategy of maximizing reach, they instead maximize engagement. Which is a hell of a lot more effective in the long run.

Which means that as a high-talent person you too have to play the "Demonstrating Higher Value" game, rather than be able to toil and build wealth in obscurity. So rather than lament the situation I have decided instead to embrace it. In retrospect, it is really the only path left for growth as I have more or less reached the highest echelons of compensation as a software developer for my market already.


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