A Quest for Meritocracy

Vision for a better future of work

Ray Dalio. Credits to himself and TED.

Part 1: The Case on Idea Meritocracy

September 23, 2017

It was 11:00 pm, my eyelids were getting heavy. As I was about to leave my desk and head to my warm and comfortable bed, my phone started to blink out message notifications from my friend LJ.

Judging from the preview on my iPhone, he had sent me a link to a TED Talk. He then followed up with messages like “Urgent” and “You must watch this.”

I clicked the link and saw an old guy with a high forehead (the one you saw earlier actually) but who nevertheless looks like a nice person, who turned out to be Ray Dalio, founder and Co-CIO of the largest hedge fund in the world, Bridgewater Associates. His talk was uploaded only 2 weeks ago.

He gave a fascinating talk. It’s the most thought-provoking one I’ve ever watched on TED actually. It also stirred up controversy: on one hand, his ideas garnered skepticism from the internet with many YouTube trolls calling his organization a cult, while on the other, he was viewed as the Steve Jobs of the investment world.

He introduced a decision-making process that he called an “Idea Meritocracy”

At 9:05 of the video, he demonstrated a tool he called the “Dot Collector” which he uses to implement “Idea Meritocracy” within his company.

My friend and I both see this as the future of work. Yes, it’s brutal, but being (or trying to be) logical and all that, we believe this is the best pathway to growth, and the best decision-making process for businesses.

What was so urgent?

Well, my friend wanted me to just make that tool.

“It isn’t that hard to code, right?”

I digged in a little more about Ray Dalio and his Dot Collector. According to a Bloomberg interview, he is giving out the tools for free, and some “Silicon Valley type companies” have already signed up for it. However, the earliest rollout is probably 18 months away.

“18 months sounds way too far into the future.”

DotsAI and DotsMeeting

So I started building it the next morning.

I was only a week into working on my new startup, Aurora, which I began after I’ve learned a ton about the personal finance industry from Atomicard, my startup before that. All of a sudden, my friend convinced me to pause all that, and work on this thing that essentially simulates the Dot Collector.

It didn’t feel like a startup, because it wasn’t my idea, nor was it my friend’s. But I also couldn’t not build it, because it seemed like such an exciting future of work. So we figured we should just make it and see what happens.

I quickly put up a landing page at DotsAI.com. There was no real product reason for the term “AI” here. It’s just a marketing fad. While most don’t understand what it is, everyone thinks it’s cool.

In fact, everything’s going to be powered by AI in the near future that it’s almost redundant to say something has AI in it. [Footnote 1.]

I started coding the meeting app much like the Dot Collector (using React and Redux, for the nerdy ones) on DotsMeeting.com, and in 2 weeks, the app that works like what Ray demo-ed in his TED Talk was live.

A partial screenshot of the DotsMeeting web app, a simulation of the Dot Collector.

At this point, we had gathered hundreds of emails via DotsAI.com from people eager to try out the app. We had talked and exchanged emails with nearly one hundred of them. It was an exciting moment for me to ship something that so many people were eager to use.

Getting Cease and Desist Letter from The Billionaire

I don’t know if you saw this coming already, but very soon we got a strongly-worded email from Ray Dalio’s legal counsel team.

The guy representing the firm, upon a simple Google search, turns out to be world-renowned in IP law.

While I was still developing the DotsMeeting app, the question of legality actually came up a few times.

“But we’re not charging anyone. It should be fine right?”

My friend replied that he had legal concerns too, but…

“The day I get sued by a billionaire is the day I’m celebrating.”

I don’t know about you, but I took three law classes in college. My friend even took a class on Intellectual Properties. Yeah, talk about college education.

Anyhow, we quickly took down the websites. We dropped them not only because of an unintentional trademark infringement, but also for another important concern — nobody used it in a real meeting.

The Missing Gap between Theory and Reality

It’s clear something is missing. We built almost exactly the same software as presented in the TED demo. I mean you could argue that it’s still lacking important behind-the-scenes features, but I think there’s a bigger problem.

After rewatching Ray Dalio’s interviews many times, he actually strongly emphasized the ideas of “Radical Truthfulness and Radical Transparency” as the main ideas he’s conveying. We got distracted by the tools they use and forgot about the strong culture behind the users of those tools.

Without the underlying culture of being truthful and transparent with each other, having tools such as the Dot Collector to collect ratings and feedback is useless and unfruitful. If such a tool is forced upon employees, it quickly turns into a game of politics and manipulation.

According to a former employee at Bridgewater whom we got in touch with, he has seen people “abuse [the dot collector] and use it to their advantage” as well as people who literally started “crying and sobbing in meetings.”

The fact is this kind of situation happens within Bridgewater too, and Ray Dalio himself also said many times that “this is not for everybody.”

In order for new Bridgewater employees to adjust to the radicacy in truthfulness and transparency, they typically spend about 18 months resisting the urge of office politics (like talking behind someone’s back) and be truly open to harsh but thoughtful disagreements (which often felt like criticism).

About a third of them don’t make it (meaning they quit within 18 months).

How do we encourage radical truthfulness and radical transparency? For most organizations, we can’t just fire anyone who isn’t a fit, right? For the selected few within Bridgewater, it seems like they have the ultra ability to suppress emotion with logic, which many of us do not have (or would rather not have).


Part 2: Camaraderie and Teamwork in the Military

November 1, 2017

Two weeks later, I started training at the Republic of China’s Marine Corps for my compulsory military service. My experience lasted for only four months, during which I went through the bootcamp phase and was stationed in a combat unit near the Taipei Area.

Like all new recruits, the first thing we had to do when we were in bootcamp was to shave our hair off. The first important lesson was that there’s no more you and I, there’s only us. We were to operate as a group, look after each other, remind each other, and take care of each other.

If any of us makes a mistake, the officer screams not only at the person who made the mistake, but also at the guys around him who did not remind and look after their comrade. In other words, everyone gets f*cked.

While I was in the troop, this lesson was brought to a whole new level. When someone makes a mistake, he has to stand in front of everyone, and while he does not get any punishment, everyone else gets the punishment. He gets to look at how everyone else gets yelled at and f*cked around by the officers.

The aftermath of such events is the tremendous guilt felt by the person who made the mistake — the guilt for not having been a good team member of the group. When that kind of pain is greater than personal consequences (which was none), camaraderie forms and great teamwork happens.

Team members of the ROC Marine Corps. (Source)

Truthfulness and Transparency in Great Teamwork

The military was a harsh and stressful environment for us, especially in the beginning. There was constant yelling and screaming in almost everything we did. I pretty much went through all my shooting without a single moment of silence. I f*cking hated my instructor, I wished he could just shut the f*ck up.

In hindsight though, that was kind of required, right? In case China actually invades Taiwan in 2020, we at the Marine Corps fight at the frontline. The real battlefield is a much more chaotic environment to shoot a rifle than just being howled at with annoying sounding words.

Operating in such an environment also gives rise to what I believe is the greatest sense of teamwork I have ever been a part of.

“Hey, you’re resting that rifle on the wrong leg.”
“Hey, you should hold that bowl while you’re eating.”

Hearing these reminders, even if it’s something so seemingly small and trivial, is a common occurrence, and often from comrades who we’re not close with.

In many cases, we went straight into the action of helping each other out, like helping the last guy fix his rifle strip in a field run, or doing the bed for the guy who stood sentry at 4:00 am.

For the majority of my life, this seemed unreal. Forget about getting altruistic help, we rarely even receive truthful comments from someone in school or work, like “Hey, I think you could do better by doing…” and even if we do, we often take it personally or question the person’s motive.

In the military, we’re thankful when we receive one. It was this level of truthfulness and transparency that makes us an effective group. It was what got us into less trouble over time. There was zero judgment, and we assume good intentions from every comrade. It was a wonderful feeling.

The military gave me a taste of camaraderie, teamwork and what Ray Dalio calls “Radical Truthfulness and Radical Transparency.” Most importantly, it led me to my belief that such a culture is not something magical, and it’s definitely not an elite concept possible only for a selected few.

If the military can bring a bunch of different people together — from the road construction worker to the (literal) dumpling folder at Ding Tai Fung to the software engineer that makes more money than our captain — and make us trust and be radically truthful and transparent with each other, then we can definitely do something about it in the workplace.


Simon Sinek. Credits to himself and TED.

Part 3: A Quest for Meritocracy

March 15, 2018

Relax. By no means am I suggesting emulating the military environment in organizations. But given that historically, lots of great teamwork did come from the military [Footnote 2.], we can maybe learn a lesson or two from it.

For one thing, nobody ever gets “fired” from the troop for performance issues.

Sure, if you violated a significant moral code, you may be expelled, but if you can’t run 3 kilometers within a certain minutes, your officer won’t tell you “That’s it. Go find a job elsewhere.” Instead, you will be trained, maybe be yelled at, and be trained more until you make it. Nobody will give up on you.

Simon Sinek says it better.

In other words, in order to have effective teamwork, there has to be a leader who makes members of the team feel safe.

Asking employers to love their employees unconditionally and not fire anyone despite horrible performance is perhaps unpractical, but at the very minimum let’s not exacerbate the situation with new technologies.

In the future where workflow is increasingly powered by AI, there will be software like the Dot Collector that collects more process data (or Big Data) to feed to the algorithms of AI. But if any of these softwares threatens the sense of safety of employees, it won’t be the future.

In fact, it would have a reverse effect as it decreases the sense of teamwork among employees. These softwares would quickly turn into sophisticated tools for corporate “Hunger Games” (office politics) and become the very technology that kills an organization.

Without a sense of safety, people won’t be honest and truthful with each other. All those data being collected will not accurately reflect the current state of the company, and algorithms will be skewed.

Designing for Objectivity

A few years back, in 2007, a software engineer named Brian Robertson set out on a vision to create an ultra efficient organizational system. His work, a flat organization that funnels down decision-making to independent teams, became known as Holacracy. Notable companies like Zappos and Medium were among the thousands of organizations that adopted it.

In Holacracy, authorities are distributed to self-organizing teams that make decisions locally. (Video)

Like how Ray Dalio runs his meetings with the use of Dot Collector, Holacracy also runs its meetings with unique processes, namely with Tactical Meetings and Governance Meetings, each following a strict set of rules, like not having small talks during parts of the meeting.

Holacracy aims to get rid of biases and run an organization like an operating system. While there are merits, such as extremely efficient meetings and empowerment for employees to contribute ideas [Footnote 3.], others have criticized it as being inhuman and losing touch with the human emotion.

In 2016, Medium abandoned it while Zappos is still struggling with it.

While systems like Holacracy and Idea Meritocracy are about getting rid of human biases — groupthink, ignorance, politics — for better decision-making within organizations, the lack of human emotion by design seems to backfire on the very purpose it tries to achieve.

From the awkward silences in the meetings of Holacracy, to the uncomfortable criticism in the Dot Collector of Idea Meritocracy, one common pitfall becomes obvious. Emotions aren’t part of the equation.

Measuring Employee Sentiment

Every organization we know probably has some sort of employee feedback mechanism in place, whether that’s an informal verbal question: “How’s work?” or a weekly survey sent out to employees.

Even when I was in the military, I had to fill out a survey every week that asked “On a scale of 0 to 6, how likely are you going to commit suicide?” (Not kidding)

The problem is that people don’t usually answer them honestly, and since we’re on the topic of suicide, let me introduce you a concept notoriously called Suicide by Feedback.

“How will my boss think if I say this honestly?”

The fear of Suicide by Feedback has been the biggest incumbent to honest feedback. It’s what makes radical truthfulness and transparency impossible. According to the research firm that coined the term, 31% of those who spoke up honestly said it cost them a pay increase, a promotion, or their job.

This is a serious problem. If 1 in 3 people at work are dissuaded from speaking up truthfully, you’re left with 2/3 of those people who originally spoke up. Then, over time, 1/3 of that population are dissuaded from speaking up again. You do the math. Pretty soon the whole organization will be muted.


The Challenges

At this point, I have come up with more problems than I have answered, but that’s the beauty of it. For organizations to truly transition into meritocracy, there are many problems to be solved.

How can organizations make better decisions? If the success of a company is the sum of all good decisions it makes, then decision-making is the most important process that stands at the core of the company.

We started off with the case on Idea Meritocracy, a solution by Ray Dalio to improve the decision-making process by having employees constantly and transparently rate and give each other feedback.

That way, he argues, people can start seeing things on the higher level and stress-test the ideas in their heads. People arrogantly, naively believing that their ideas are right and acting on them without stress-testing them is, according to his words, one of the greatest tragedies of mankind.

Ray Dalio wants us to ask ourselves: “How do I know I’m right?”

This is revolutionary, but not a general solution to the problem. We know this because we made the tools Ray uses but people aren’t using them. We learned that what enabled Idea Meritocracy wasn’t the tools, but the culture of radical truthfulness and transparency.

How do we bring about radical truthfulness and transparency?

While Bridgewater could make that culture by filtering out from day one the employees who can’t deal with the emotional stress of confrontation, most organizations could not. We would need to fire a lot of people.

From Bridgewater’s example, the concept of radical truthfulness and transparency seems elitist. My military experience, however, led to my belief that such a culture is not.

We had comrades from every level of society, yet we could make it together as a cohesive group. We were radically truthful and transparent with each other. It was a wonderful feeling, but only when given a foundation of trust and teamwork.

How do we establish trust and build great teamwork then?

Simon Sinek says we need to make employees feel safe — to change our mindset on employee termination, but how feasible is that?

If the basis of termination is in performance reviews, which are increasingly peer-to-peer, we also need to deal with the inevitable office politics.

How do we know the feedback we collect are truthful, and the peer ratings we collect not driven by politics?

As a manager, team leader, or member of the c-suite, how do I get the most ideas out of my team, and most importantly, make sure they are heard and feel valued? How do I become a better leader?


Solving Problems

This whole culture and trust and teamwork thing may sound a little vague.

If we take a step back, what we’re really looking for is data. Data that reflects the true state of the company. Data that can help us make better decisions.

Culture supports the integrity of data, but that is not the only way.


We can collect better data through design.

For example, if people fear that saying something truthfully to their boss or company will damage their career, make it anonymous, and share it with others, who can also agree or disagree anonymously. If you fear abuse, make it an option that the manager can still, under the circumstances of abuse, reveal the anonymity. If you reveal the person’s name, everyone else will also know you revealed the person, so assuming you as a well-intentioned manager, you wouldn’t abuse that feature too, right?

Inspired by Game Theory and Doctrine of the Mean

When we have anonymous feedback designed this way, we have essentially crossed out 2 of 3 possible abuse circumstances. Abuse by both parties is also possible, after which the tool will be thrown away, but why would anyone start using the tool in the first place?

Honest Kingdom

This is a product hypothesis codenamed as the Honest Kingdom, because it is as if you’re entering into this new world, where your true identity is hidden, where you have the power to raise concerns without fearing for repercussions. However, if you abuse the power and use it for personal attacks, meaning you have broken the laws of Honest Kingdom, then you will be punished by having your true identity revealed. The same goes for the King, who is the manager.

The purpose of the Honest Kingdom is for managers and employees to eventually open up themselves and not have to go to the Honest Kingdom to communicate again. By that point, a culture of radical truthfulness and transparency has formed. This can be facilitated by positive reinforcement, like having you “Knighted” (or something) when a good issue has been brought up. You get the point!

Intellectual Gym

If you’re in one of Ray Dalio’s meetings and all of a sudden someone rated you a 3/10 for “being open-minded and assertive at the same time” and you feel like you’re offended, that’s because you are. That person is rude. What he or she did was like saying to a stranger on the street “You’re fat and ugly.”

To be fair, that wasn’t Ray Dalio’s design intention, but I was trying to make a point. If we were to put the analogy to fit, imagine you’re in an organization that trains bodybuilders and someone tells you “Your belly is too fat and your biceps are ugly.”

There’s nothing wrong with measuring fat percentage and bicep size, or quantifying your open-mindedness and assertiveness. It’s about the context. Feedback like this should be in sync with the intention of the recipient.

If you go to the gym with the intention of getting abs, you wouldn’t mind measuring your fat percentage, because you want to track your progress until your fat is low enough for your abdominal muscles to eventually surface.

It just happens that if you’re working on something like “open-mindedness,” there isn’t something like the body fat machine to measure it for you, so you need people to give you the measurements via feedback.

Feedback is therefore utterly important. The problem of the Dot Collector, however, is that feedback for every attribute is allowed, which easily creates chaos and animosity. We don’t train every single human muscle in a gym routine, it’s impractical. Why should we do that to our brains?

Inspired by the basics of Sports Science

The design of this product hypothesis, codenamed as Intellectual Gym, allows employees to select whatever intellectual attributes they want to improve on — to create their own routines. Others can only transparently rate you on the attributes in your routine.

Now that the intention is clear, feedback no longer feels harsh. Each rating is supported by comments and (ideally) anecdotal examples, so you have a vivid picture on what to do to improve next time.

Others can also anonymously suggest other attributes for your routine. Once there are enough colleagues suggesting a particular one, it will be presented to you and your manager. Together with your manager, you will determine the exact attributes for the next routine and the cycle repeats.


We can collect better data through technology.

Nonviolent Room

From time to time, people still say nasty stuff to each other. We’re human after all. Our words are influenced by our emotions, and our communication gets violent real quick. [Footnote 4.]

The purpose of this product hypothesis, codenamed Nonviolent Room, is to mediate conflict among team members and bring everyone together as a cohesive group again. It’s about strengthening the teamwork.

There are very good reasons to do so. When you finally have people giving truthful feedback to each other, disagreements are inevitable, and sometimes they escalate to emotion-driven conflicts. A conflict resolution process is a necessity for sustaining a culture of radical truthfulness and transparency.

Luckily, we have modern technologies like sentiment analysis that can help us identify the people who need conflict resolution, by applying it to look for negative emotions among all the text within the peer feedback system.

When people enter into the Nonviolent Room, they are greeted by the mediator, who basically acts like a counsellor. They will then answer a series of questions that help them better understand the other person’s perspective.

We need this because it provides an automatic way to prevent data getting skewed by conflicts and politics. It also brings us together as a cohesive group.

Inspired by peacemaker Dr. Marshall Rosenberg (Photo: Kirk Crippens)

Sentiment analysis, otherwise known as emotion AI, not only serves as a core enabler of the Nonviolent Room, but also determines the truthfulness of peer ratings at the Intellectual Gym. The two go hand in hand.

1-on-1 Diary

We can apply even more modern technologies into a company’s workflow, like 1-on-1 meetings, which are vitally important for managers to establish trust and ultimately encourage more ideas from employees.

The codename 1-on-1 Diary for this product hypothesis is a deliberate emphasis on privacy. Diaries are private, and so too should the data and content in these 1-on-1 meetings.

Using speech recognition, we can solve the conundrum of taking notes V.S. listening. When you’re taking notes, you’re not 100% tuned into listening, and you’re definitely not looking at the other person. When you’re only listening, it’s easy to forget about the ideas and important details later on.

1-on-1 Diary records the private meetings you have with your manager or employee and transcribe the conversation into text. Each party can read or listen to them again later and take private notes. As a manager, you can also keep track of your notes of all your team members here.

Sentiment analysis is applied again to these conversations and presented to the manager as a measurement for morale, on the team level (meaning one team one score, individuals won’t have a score).

This is important because we can now finally reflect the true state of a company by putting human emotions into the equation.


We can collect better data through automation.

Heartbeat

Another type of meeting that we have all the time are status meetings.

I’m not talking about “Daily Scrums” or the morning stand-ups among a small team to talk about what to do for the day. Those are great already.

I’m talking about the ones that are company-wide or among the managers. The ones where your boss wants to know what’s going on. The ones that take forever and get nothing done.

The purpose of these meetings is to get everyone in sync, which is important because, well, that’s the whole point of a company — everyone works toward the same goal via teamwork (and makes some money at the same time).

But these meetings are extremely costly. Consider a developer whose hourly value is $60/hour, a project manager whose hourly value is $70, and a “boss” who gets paid pretty handsomely at $100/hour. The cost of this seemingly small 3-person meeting is already $230.

Let’s say you have 5 of these small meetings in a week, which is $230 * 5 = $1150, for the three of you. Assume there are 10 teams like this. The total weekly cost of these meetings is already $11,500, or $46,000 per month.

Don’t forget about the 1 big 30-person meeting held every week that takes at least 3 hours, which is $2300 * 3 = $6900, or $27,600 per month.

Together, we spend $46,000 + $27,600 = $73,600 per month. [Footnote 5.]

$100 bills raining just like that. (GIF version here)

Really? 736 Benjamin Franklins just to get everyone in sync every month?

I take all credits on this idea. It came out of nowhere. [Footnote 6.]

Heartbeat (remember, still a product hypothesis) gets status updates with automated pings (via Slack, email, etc.) asking employees what they’re up to.

Example pings:

  1. What are you doing today?
  2. What are your roadblocks?
  3. What did you do today?

Each reply by an employee is a pulse, which shows up on the company dashboard as a red dot. You can give a pulse anytime you want, so it doesn’t disturb your workflow. You can also give extra pulses to inform others and your boss about the important things, like closing a deal with a client.

Every pulse will be recorded on a timeline, which can be daily or weekly, with the latest pulse shown on the right, so managers can quickly get up-to-date. More importantly, everyone can see what everyone else is up to, at any given time, in any given day. It makes radical transparency come true.

Roundtable

“But Harrison,” (That’s my name)

“I still want face-to-face interactions with my team members.”

Apart from stand-ups and small group meetings, occasionally we still gather a bunch of people together for relatively formal meetings to discuss something important. Often we want to decide on what to do next.

We’ll call these meetings “Strategy Meetings” as a placeholder. People refer to them with different names, but there is one universal commonality: everyone thinks they are generally a f*cking waste of time. (Okay, mostly.)

These meetings are irreplaceable by technology because sometimes we do need face-to-face interactions to make discussions fruitful. But more often than not, they drag on and on and on… and people digress, like that last time Bob wanted to get Burritos for lunch, and people started talking about Tacos. How do you call those bigger sized Tacos again? Right, a Burrito. Wait, what? Sorry, I digress.

Inspired by many Google Searches.

Roundtable automates many of the things that we should be doing (but are not doing) to run better meetings. I’ve summed them up in 3 steps.

  1. Collect all Issues
  2. Set an Agenda
  3. Focus on Actions

Before the start of any actual meeting, Roundtable sends out reminders to all participants asking for whatever issues they have. People can then put down the things they want to discuss in bullet points (and nested bullet points).

Notice how the agenda formats out based on the participants, not the issues? That is a deliberate design to give everyone a chance to speak, which by the way, is one aspect of Holacracy that nobody criticizes. It also kicks irrelevant people out of the meeting. If you’re not contributing, GTFO.

Every Roundtable meeting has a host, who is responsible for the final edits of the agenda, and making sure everybody follows it throughout the meeting.

A Roundtable meeting is biased towards actions. Well, half of the page is about actions. You can decide on new to-dos and track the progress of everyone’s past to-dos. Roundtable puts everything together to give a transparent overview of who’s doing what, and who’s made progress.


We can collect better data through visualization.

Maptable

Now let’s move on to how you can get the most ideas out of your team.

A Maptable in Dragonstone (Source)

If you’re a GoT fan like me, you would most instantly recognize this beautiful table carved with the map of Westeros. It’s what Daenerys used to plan out her conquer plans with her three dragons.

Or imagine the commander’s meeting room in any military unit. When I was in the military, I once saw this room with a super big map of Taiwan and there were these plastic figures lying around representing the units for combat.

If that’s how a commander makes a decision for warfare, why can’t we do the same in a company? Listing out all the options, writing down the pros and cons for each option, and giving a weight to each argument?

Inspired by Ray Dalio’s Idea Meritocracy

Ray Dalio inspired us to not only rate each other, but also to rate each other’s ideas, though it wasn’t clear how.

Maptable is here for that.

You can use Maptable in a group brainstorming session, or asynchronously with your team members remotely, or even just all by yourself. It’s meant to be part of your decision-making process, to give you a tool to lay out all available options just like a commander would before going to war.

Every Maptable centers around one question and results in one decision. Anyone can add an option, or provide an argument on why a specific option would work. You can also rate the impact of any argument on a scale of 1 to 4.

Just like how there are ranks in a military unit, people have different levels of expertise (merit) in a company. Every rating is weighted accordingly. The strongest argument surfaces to the top, and the best option shades darker.

Such a visualization not only makes things clear, but also helps us see things on the higher level. It empowers everyone to see like a commander. Only when you have that kind of team will you get the best ideas possible.


Lastly, we can collect better data through love.

I know.

Wall of Love

I think the codename speaks for itself. This product hypothesis exists because for all the truthfulness and transparency that we strive for so far, there has been too much focus on “improving the bad” but not “celebrating the good.”

Somehow inspired by Wonderwall by Oasis

Wall of Love is a place for people to come together and express gratitude, to thank someone for the work, and to reflect on the positive experiences that happened within the community. It is a place for 10/10 feedback and genuine appreciation for your teammates.

It is also a place for managers to give constructive praise, because they are just as important as constructive criticism. Using it as a practice ground, perhaps we could all strive to become better leaders. [Footnote 7.]


Thanks for making it this far.

Veronode

Truth is, many of these hypotheses will not bring the outcome that we desire. They are merely, at this stage, ideas. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have a bunch of ideas. That’s what matters to hard problems anyways.

Together with my friend Ljupcho (LJ), we are starting a company called Veronode, a product development studio for the future of work. Our job is simple. We’re reimagining workflow to help people make better decisions.

Our name comes from the Italian word “vero” which means true. We’re not into startup bullshit. We’re not looking to fundraise. We care about getting to the truth — figuring out what brings value, and what the future of work is.

To make this whole thing work, we are partnering up with 100 companies and building software for them for free. That’s right. We don’t charge you until you find value. We want this to be a win-win situation.

We’re doing this because, well, we’re young and we don’t have families to support. We also don’t need a lot of money to survive. We’re doing this so we can look at the problem from 100 diverse perspectives.

We’re not building projects for each company. Rather, we are creating one system from the ground up that can bring substantial value to all, and when we have figured that out, that is the future of work.

Here’s what we know about the future of work so far.

  1. We know it’s a place where the best ideas win out.
  2. We know it’s a place with radical truthfulness and radical transparency. (when done right)
  3. We know trust and teamwork are the foundation (like how physiological needs are the foundation to self-actualization.)
  4. We know performance review will be independent of subjective data.
  5. We know it is a version of meritocracy powered by massive truthful data.

And there’s so much work to be done, so much discovery to be made.

Call to Action

  • If you run a company, a department, a team, and would like to partner up with us, please send us an email at your.partners@veronode.com, and tell us about a problem you have, and what goal you would like to achieve.
  • If you are a technical product person, meaning you can code, have a decent sense of design, and know how to talk to users, and if you would love to work on this interesting problem of figuring out the future of work, please send us an email at join@veronode.com with your proudest work.
  • Or if you’re just hanging around and think this whole thing is interesting, send us a yo at yo@veronode.com, and if I have time, I’ll send you back a yo too and maybe we can have a conversation. Who knows.

Peter Drucker, Father of Management

Ending Notes

Peter Drucker once wrote:

The most important contribution of management in the 20th Century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing.
The most important contribution of management in the 21st century will be to increase knowledge worker productivity — hopefully by the same percentage.
The methods, however, are totally different from those that increased the productivity of manual workers.

I think we’re getting there. We’re still in the transition, but we’re getting there, and most importantly:

The best way to predict the future is to create it.

Said Abraham Lincoln, Peter Drucker, and Alan Kay.


Footnotes

  1. For starters, I recommend reading The Inevitable (especially Chapter 2), by Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired. Listen to why AI is the new electricity, by Andrew Ng, Stanford Professor, founder of Coursera and former Chief Scientist at Baidu. Prof. Ng also has a free course on AI.
  2. One of my favorite authors on Medium, Sebastian Marshall, is currently writing a series of articles on “Unity”, a term he uses to describe highly effective teamwork, often drawing important military examples from history. Read the one he wrote referencing the United States Marine Corps.
  3. One similarity between Holacracy and Idea Meritocracy is that both seek to empower team members to contribute more ideas. Holacracy does it by giving each employee undisturbed time to speak up, while Idea Meritocracy sets up a system that rewards the best ideas.
  4. The Nonviolent Room hypothesis was inspired by Nonviolent Communication, a conflict resolution process developed by Marshall Rosenberg, a psychologist who spent much of his career as a peacemaker throughout the world. (How cool is that?) You can watch a great TED Talk inspired by him here.
  5. You can calculate the true cost of your meetings using this tool developed by Harvard Business Review. Remember to put that number into perspective by multiplying it to get the weekly and monthly cost.
  6. Speaking of credits, I must give credit to Freepiks on Flaticon.com for the icons I used (licensed by Creative Commons BY 3.0) in many of my product hypothesis illustrations.
  7. “Good managers give constructive criticism, but truly masterful leaders offer constructive praise.” (You can read more here) I find this quote inspiring both in the context of work as well as in my personal life. I believe in being honest with people, but way too often that means saying the things that should be fixed. That’s just half of what honesty is about. The other half is about complimenting the good qualities, appreciating what has worked, and expressing general gratitude in a truthful way.