Monday, September 16, 2013

WORDPRESS.COM and the f u tu r e  of  work

book review by Gloria Buono-Daly

“The oldest technology we have is speaking… Social media -- speaking, writing, and drinking -- has always been around…" ~~ Scott Berkun , public speaker, best-selling author, as quoted November 19, 2009 during “Web 2.0 Expo NYC,” Conference co-produced by O'Reilly Media, Inc. and TechWeb; @berkun

Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, never asked me to join his company as team lead at Automattic, but author, Scott Berkun made me feel as if I had accepted the dreamiest dream job. By the way, the company name Automattic is intentionally misspelled with the extra “t” for the founder’s first name, Matt.

The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun has become my favorite business leadership book about work culture, leadership, and creative productivity.

Filled with humor and everyday life lessons, it’s the perfect gift for business colleagues from C-level officers and executives to managers, assistants, friends and family.

Berkun, a leading public speaker and entrepreneur for a decade who has already authored 4 popular books with 3 of them best-sellers, shares his journey as "automattician" (nickname for Automattic employees).

After a decade as a successful entrepreneur, with his income generated solely from speaking engagements and royalties from his books, Berkun decides to become an employee again by accepting the team leader position at WordPress’ Automattic.

Berkun is immediately exposed to Automattic’s unusual but innovative remote work culture and discovers communications with the proverbial emails are replaced by blogs (particularly with Wordpress' real-time communications plugin P2), chats (i.e.,IRC or Internet Relay Chat), and Skype. There are very few meetings, and schedules are non-existent.

Small tweaks to the company’s vernacular foster a sense of jovial community. For example, the support team is called “Happiness Team,” tech support is called “Happiness Engineers,” and “Caturday” for Saturday, etc.

Company rules mirror the push for a collective and integrated workforce: every new automattician is to be trained in customer support, all workers are encouraged to join on any project channel, and a creed is included on official documents including job offer letters.

The very beginning of the book includes a valuable takeaway as Berkun shares his experience during his job interview with Mullenweg:
“I told him I’d do it if I could write a book about my experience. He said yes, and here we are,” ~~ Scott Berkun, on becoming employee #58 on August 4, 2010, The Year Without Pants
Berkun’s sharp humor, keen perspective and legendary voice make you want to keep turning the pages to find out what he’s working on next or what his next decision will be and why. The story is in chronological format with a “participatory journalism” approach, allowing reporting that is more intimate with Berkun sharing his thoughts from being in the center of it all – looking and reaching from the inside out, rather than reporting from the standard sidelines.

A great moment (of many) in the book is when Berkun does not know his work is being monitored by the Automattic administration interface all while he is being trained by support aka “Happiness Team.” Hilariously, the book includes an image of Berkun’s “scorecard” with a mere 252 tickets for the month.
“Even worse than being tracked was being tracked and in last place … Despite my best efforts, the support tour kicked my ass… I’d leave the tour demoralized but inspired … I could proudly say I’d simultaneously helped customers, improved my knowledge of the product and befriended more than a dozen coworkers through actual work.”
~~ Scott Berkun, The Year Without Pants
Though the entire book is filled with fabulous learning facts, I was most struck by the manner to which Berkun vividly describes leadership power with analogy to the 1943 novella The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) by French aristocrat and author Antoine de Saint-Exupery:
“There’s a deep emptiness in the lives of our most powerful people. Their drive for power is an attempt to fill that void. They remind me of the businessman in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. In the book, the businessman has all the stars in the universe but no idea what they are good for: he just always wants more of them. Too many company founders are just collecting stars. Mullenweg is one of the few I’ve known who created something as powerful as WordPress yet remembers what the stars are for.”
~~ Scott Berkun, The Year Without Pants
Throughout the book this phenomena of WordPress’s success is illustrated through Berkun’s journey of discovery where wisdom and ideas, combined with laughter and camaraderie, make spectacular and unprecedented things happen at Automattic; Including this very special photograph taken by Berkun titled, "Friendship Trees," (Chapter 23, EXIT THROUGH HAWAII, "page 224).
Below photo courtesy of Scott Berkun.

There are so many important parts, surprise learning stories, and takeaways from The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun that I can write a book about it, but that would give it away. If you want to know more, you'll have to read the book, which is in stores Tuesday, September 17th.

How WordPress Thrives with a 100% Remote Workforce , by Scott Berkun, HBR (Harvard Business Review), March 15, 2013
Facebook photos include Berkun at Web 2.0 Expo 2009, co-produced by O'Reilly Media and TechWeb, Javits Center, New York City, November 16-19, 2009 (last 3 photos in album are of Scott Berkun)
Is there life after email? Yes, and it's amazing, Scott Berkun, FastCompany, Work Smart section
The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun (Jossey-Bass; 978-1-118-66063-8; September 2013; $26.95; e-book available) web site
Scott Berkun on Twitter @berkun
The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun on Goodreads
Scott Berkun on Wikipedia
Why Your Company Should Have a Creed, Matt Mullenweg blog MA.TT UNLUCKY IN CARDS
Unlucky In Cards, Matt Mullenweg
How P2 Changed Automattic, Matt Mullenweg blog MA.TT UNLUCKY IN CARDS
Matt Mullenweg on Wikipedia
WordPress latest stats

Please check out all the links in the resource section above and share this on your LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks you enjoy! Thanks!

Photo of Scott Berkun at the podium during the Web 2.0 conference in New York City, November 19, 2009, taken by Gloria Buono-Daly. All other photos courtesy of Scott Berkun and Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand.

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