HOWTO work at a company without a boss


Today at Institute for the Future's conference about "Re-Aligning Human Organization" my colleague Jason Tester showed the image above in his presentation. It's from video game developer Valve Corporation's employee manual that was released online (PDF) earlier this year. It's also a good summary of how new editorial projects get done (or not) at Boing Boing!


  1. After seeing the image, and then quickly glancing through the Valve training manual, I’m wondering what school would look like if we did it this way?  I bet it would look really amazing. 

    1.  It pretty much is how Valve works, at least on a very high level. The thing is, Valve is very picky about WHO they hire and not everyone can function in an environment like that.

      1. that’s the same argument that the Chinese Communist party use re democracy, that the Chinese people aren’t “ready” for it.

    2. Pop ‘Collaborative Learning’ into Google Scholar and you can see just how amazing it is where it has been tested.

      Collaboration improves subject understanding, information retention, critical thinking, problem solving, communication skills, you name it…

    3. As someone who co-directs a non-coercive “school-alternative” for K-12 kids who plans on printing out the “how to work without a boss” page and adding “or teacher” to it, I would say that it, indeed, looks pretty amazing.

    4. Schools that work that way are awesome. I know. The high school I graduated from worked on that principle. Actually, that high school was the prism through which I understood how the company was operating (especially when it came to things like salaries and stuff- they work just like our project grades.). I’d never thought that such a thing might exist in the real world, but once I knew it did, I really hated myself for not having a single skill that’d give me an excuse to apply for a job there. And then I hated the crappy job I was working at the time even more. It was at a theoretically non-hierarchical organization that was actually extremely hierarchical, just not formally…which meant it had all the downsides of hierarchy and non of the benefits. If the organization had been managed like Valve, I’d have been able to get SO MUCH MORE DONE, as would have the rest of my department. We’d have accomplished amazing things. I mentioned the thing casually to the CEO in a long car ride, but she was all, “Oh, you know, that doesn’t apply to non-profits, blah blah blah.” (seems to me that non-profits are in less of a position to throw money away via stupidly self-sabotaging management styles, but, heh, I wasn’t the one getting paid stupid money to run the place in to the ground.)

  2. 1:  Use a one-handed keyboard and look askance at your monitors while being orbited by a floating lightbulb.
    2:  Tell coworker about floating lightbulb. Eschew both donuts and fruit.
    3:  Get one of those wooden whirligig clock things from a crafts fair and mount it behind your shared desk.
    4:  Return wooden clock thing to manufacturer.

    Sounds good to me!

    1. 1. Undergo sex unification.
      2. Coordinate skin color.
      3. Synchronize hairstyles.

      Once unity is achieved you can start working together.

      1. Once unity is achieved you can start working together.

        Working together to finally initialize mallard linearization, for a better way of life.

        1. As any casual pondwatcher can attest, linear mallards are juveniles. While an important step in development, one doesn’t see useful results until they acquire autonomy of purpose; one doesn’t begin to see results approaching an ideal until said purpose is turned towards the weal of the flock.

  3. Don’t forget to 3b. Put a bird on it.

    That way, if anybody questions you about why your product doesn’t fit within the company vision because the company has no leadership or direction, you can respond, “WTF?  There’s a BIRD on this.”

          1. I don’t – “e” is a long way from “a” on most phones. I’m not really being pedantic, I’m just continuing the thread to see how long it takes for Muphry’s law to become evident.

    1.  If communism gave us Half Life II and the two subsequent “episodes” then perhaps communism has been unfairly maligned.

    2. Sort of, except communism still has bosses, usually scary bosses that will arrest you if they think you’re not working hard enough. So not really like communism at all.

  4. Skipped a couple of important steps:

    1. Come up with a bright idea.
    2. Tell a coworker about it.
    3. Work on it together.
    4. ???
    5. Ship it.
    6. Profit!

    1. People who take coffee very seriously.  That’s actually another benefit.

      Other answer I considered: Gale Boetticher.

  5. Fig. 2-4 shows one of the character illustrations wearing a half-life 3 shirt…oh valve, you do troll us so. Plus they have some very nifty moveable workspaces.

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