Spence Green

التكرار يعلم الحمار

I work at Lilt. In addition to computers and languages, my interests include travel, running, and scuba diving. more...

The Change Champion

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In his eclectic book Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, Yvon Chouinard traces the unusual development of Patagonia from a one-man smithing operation in California to the world’s leading producer of outdoor clothing. Chouinard’s self-deprecating style belies his preternatural understanding of the universal human craving for individual freedom. The same impulse that drove him to scale peaks using homemade tools manifests itself in the desire to skip work on Wednesdays or wear unusual clothing. People oppose systems that treat them as cogs. This is one reason for communism’s failure, and it also explains why the assembly line is at once man’s most efficient and least inspiring contrivances:

An assembly line at Gigabyte

It is the closest thing to a perpetual motion machine, for its inertia alone seems sufficient to sustain it. In many ways, the modern engineering organization is no different than this assembly line. Whereas Ford has its conveyors and pneumatic arms, the large engineering company has its “Big M” methodologies. Use Python for a business system? Too risky. Compress the management hierarchy? Too controversial. Go on the offensive during requirements development? Too costly. Breaking free from this order takes a refractory personality. This is precisely Chouinard’s conclusion:

One of my favorite sayings about entrepreneurship is: If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, “This sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.” Since I had never wanted to be a businessman, I needed a few good reasons to be one. One thing I did not want to change, even if we got serious: Work had to be enjoyable on a daily basis. We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet and go up the stairs two steps at a time. We needed to be surrounded by friends who could dress whatever way they wanted, even be barefoot. We all needed to have flextime to surf the waves when they were good, or ski the powder after a big snowstorm, or stay home and take care of a sick child. Breaking the rules and making my own system work are the creative part of management that is particularly satisfying to me.

Chouinard now has the luxury of reflecting on his ascent, which was fraught with challenges. At one point, he resorted to eating dog food when his money ran out. Such is the life of one who challenges convention, which by definition is a position arrived at by force. A terminal moraine, a huge stone pushed by a glacier, is a natural corollary:

Glacial terminal moraine

Business, climbing, and even car detailing each have their customs that were developed through natural selection over extended periods. Objecting to an established position is no more palatable than exterminating a particular species of animal. This is why Machiavelli wrote in “The Prince”:

And it should be considered that nothing is more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage, than to put oneself at the head of introducing new orders. For the introducer has all those who benefit from the old orders as enemies, and he has lukewarm defenders in all those who might benefit from the new orders.

We often forget that some of our greatest luminaries were not overnight successes, but lately recognized geniuses.

Written by Spence

February 22nd, 2008 at 7:46 pm

Posted in Management,Software

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