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May 26, 2010



"Work underground"? Good luck getting that onto your balanced scorecard.


Friends of mine who worked at a senior level in BT (this includes a director of BT Design and a head of voice technology) would tend to confirm that "publicity triggers the corporate immune mechanism" is exactly right, and "working underground as long as possible" is a valid response. Whether they were willing or not, however, as soon as the immune system kicked in, they still got fired or quit.


A lot of this stuff seems unremarkable to someone from a tech background. "Skunkworks" projects are legendary and there's a proven history of innovation coming out of groups within the organisation deciding to "scratch their own itch" and solve problems rather than waiting for the corporate hierarchy to do it. Google's Gmail service started that way, though I'm not sure Google would call their employees "intrapreneurs" or provide them with commandments.

I think what they're aiming to do is to empower individuals to use their tacit knowledge to decide what's best, rather than follow orders from out-of-touch bosses (hence forgiveness over permission, circumvent orders, use your intuition and work underground). The problem with this is that some people are suited to working that way and others aren't, and elevating this idea to the status of a guiding principle for everyone is a recipe for disaster (just as elevating rigid hierarchy and disempowerment would be). It's classic management bollocks, in that it takes something that worked for cutting-edge companies a decade ago and assuming that it should work for boring companies now. The typical employee profile is likely to be completely different (and I'm struck by the fact that some of the items you cite as signs of APD are also classic symptoms of geekhood; as a geek I find little wrong with some of them, but I don't expect everyone else to agree).

Will Davies

Thanks, Rob. That's interesting.

Re your point about APD, I guess that was also my point as well: traits that we find problematic (nay clinically deviant) in one part of society become celebrated in another. At the risk of over-egging the point, it's interesting to go through that list of diagnostic criteria and see how many of these charges were levelled at Tony Blair! All seven by some estimations, with a particular stress on the seventh.


Rob - that was pretty much my point, although my rendering was more snarky. In the corporate environment, precepts like these work on three levels at once - they're ethical injunctions, they're advice on how to have a successful career and they're a warning of the standards on which you'll be judged (with the possibility of being penalised for failure). As Will said, considered as ethical injunctions these are pretty weird and suggest a fairly dysfunctional organisational setting ("make your own plans, work in secret, trust no one"). As career advice they might work, at least for some - although the idea that everyone should be an 'intrapreneur' reminds me of Tom Peters telling us that everyone was going to become an independent freelancer marketing their skills to clients. But as a standard on which you'll be judged - well, how could that possibly work? And (in the corporate setting) if you're not going to be judged on it (and potentially penalised for non-compliance), why would anyone bother?


This is a joke. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Bill Seitz

Perhaps Accenture is just encouraging those people so that they can come in and (a) identify those troublemakers, (b) get them fired, and (c) take credit for their ideas.

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