Time to Reconsider Your Idea of a Company

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by Paul Smith

Ever have one of those moments when someone says something that makes everything else stand still? 

This happened to me recently, in conversation with Brian Jamison, a man with an eclectic history that includes playing a hand in the first Disneyland and Sony Playstation sites, biodiesel production, and now acting as CEO of OpenSourcery, a Drupal focused Portland based web development firm that is a deep practitioner of sustainability on the human, environmental and technological fronts. 

Take time now to let your thoughts on business get a rewiring…


At the moment, the things I want to talk about, the things we should have a discussion about in America, is the idea of a company. Why we have companies. I get why you have a business, and I get that having a business is about making money. I drive a Tesla, I get it! I’m not trying to live an ascetic lifestyle, but I think the fundamental thing that has been lost on this journey of capitalism that we’ve been on for quite some time, is…humanity, and what it means to be a person. And what it means to be a successful person.

I believe a company is a vehicle that’s like a social contract, it’s something we all agree to do, play this game called “come to the company.” The whole point of this thing is to make our lives better. We don’t serve the company. The company serves us. Right? Yes, I’m the owner of the company, I make money from it. But fundamentally, the reason why people stay here, one of the reasons why, is because the company is serving them. This idea is deeply foundational to the way this company is structured.

For example, I don’t set a title and look for a person. I think that’s completely stupid. I think that’s completely the wrong way of looking at it. I look for people, and craft titles around the people. To be certain, there are times where there’s very specific needs to be filled. But often, good people walk in the door,  and I want to find a way to keep them, I want them to stay on the team. If you try to fit a round peg on a square hole, and that hole is Director of something something, and that person doesn’t really want to do that ultimately? They’re gone. Either their checked out mentally, emotionally, whatever, or otherwise phoning it in, or literally they’re out the door.

Instead, I want to know, what do you want to do with your life? What drives you?  What are you passionate about? That could be anything!

I read a really interesting thing about a hotel, that when they look for maids, they are dead focused on finding people who are crazy about cleaning. Love it. It feeds them. You know that kind of person, right? Me? I would be miserable, I would slit my wrists doing that kind of thing. That person, on the other hand, is in nirvana, because they get to do what they’re passionate about every day. That’s what I’m trying do here: My new Design Director, for example, is a rare, rare find that took years to locate.

We didn’t even have an Information Architecture department until Andrea came along. She initially started with Project Management. We talked about what she wanted, and it became clear Information Architecture moved her. So we created that role, and now have a whole division for that. It’s proved tremendously beneficial to us as a company as well.

Kayla, who’s our Office Coordinator…you could be a jerkoff capitalist dick and see someone like her as a low level player. But to us, she’s super important to the team, she helps everything run at optimum here. She’s smart and capable, and I know that she’s going to move on if I don’t find a way to keep her engaged. I want the company to be helping herwhich is not a usual way to think as a businessman. By putting people first, ahead of everything else, I feel like we have a really special environment.

Yeah, we’re focused on delivering great customer experiences, all that, but I really feel like something is missing here. How is that I can be in an incredibly competitive environment, and still hold on to my team? It’s because I truly want to make sure that they’re happy, whereas another company down the road, they’re a revolving door. They don’t care. You see this reflected all across the board. Corporate level, small mom and pop operations…why aren’t we as a whole more mindful about this?

If owners of companies were village elders, or perhaps more fitting, captains of pirate ships, they’d be thrown overboard. Because they’re awful. Simply because they’re not caring enough about their team. Or better, getting out of the way of their team.

I don’t know if this is meaningful enough to do something about, but I feel it’s a fundamental problem we have in America. One of the reasons why I left Los Angeles was because I didn’t see anybody who gave a rats ass about this. I looked around, keeping an eye out for people cared about such things. Portland. People care about being human in Portland.

Readers: What’s your take on the current idea of a company? What’s working, what needs fixing, how can that happen, and what’s possible beyond that?

Paul Smith is Communications Lead at OpenSourcery.

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