Tech: Vanguard of Culture

In 1968, Intel abolished the strict hierarchy found in Eastern companies. They built every cubicle the same and every employee could communicate directly with the managers. In 1972, Atari employees showed up to work in T-shirts and jeans. On Fridays, they drank beer and partied together. The founder of Atari, Nolan Bushnell, would sometimes hold meetings in his hot tub. He later discovered that his invitations to staff pool parties acted as a powerful recruiting tool. Recently, Google’s innovative workspace has been profiled on many news sites.

In one sense, tech’s manifest destiny to innovate culture has historical roots in the inception of the first venture-backed startups. In another, the culture of tech workspaces reflects the mindset of the computer scientist — a desire for creativity, productivity, and efficiency. Programmers type while walking on a treadmill. Companies live on “campuses” with an abundance of food and recreational activities designed to satisfy workers to encourage productivity.

Startups are incredible innovators — in their products and ability to monopolize undiscovered markets. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Their deeper innovation occurs when they change our own culture — how we meet people, where we work, our means of transportation, how we are managed. Tinder is a bar with no drinks. Air BnB is a hostel with no limits. Amazon is a book store no one visits. The success of a startup, therefore, not only rides on the value of the product itself but in how much it disrupts current culture.

With this goal in mind, it is no wonder the word “tech workspace” conjures images of giant slides, impromptu Nerf Gun fights, scrum “pods”, and eclectic management systems(e.g. Amazon and Zappos). After all, as a marketer for Lean Dog relayed to me, “If we want to change culture, we first have to change ourselves. Our company culture has to be way out here (he gestures to his left). Because the public is here (he gestures to the right). And we have to bring them here (he gestures to the center)”.