What is this?

First of all, it’s very much a draft. So there’s lots of missing sections, but I’ll keep updating it!

This is a book for people who want more from their work.

I love my work, and I believe that work is an important, fulfilling part of the human experience. I also firmly believe that people should be fairly compensated for their work, but generally are not, due mostly to structural inequities. But I also believe that great work can be any task, anywhere, and at any wage. Some of our best work happens for free: in an art project; training for a marathon; volunteering for an important cause; contributing to Wikipedia.

And yet! Work sucks. All great work is hard work, and we make it too hard on ourselves to do great work well.

Some examples:

  • Gallup’s longstanding survey of engagement at work is nothing if not consistent. In the United States, only a little more than a third of employees are actually engaged at work. The other half are disengaged. And fully 17% of workers are something Gallup calls “actively disengaged,” which I take to mean actively working against their employers and colleagues. Some surveys are even darker: according to BambooHR, employee satisfaction scores fell 15 times faster between June 2022 to June 2023 than the previous two years combined.

  • Between 1948 and 1973, productivity rose more or less in line with wages (96% and 91%, respectively). Between 1973 and 2014, though, productivity rose 72%, and wages only rose 9%. It’s debatable why this divergence occurred, but my guess is that roughly concurrent development of personal computers has something to do with it, giving executives more overall leverage in the operations of their businesses.

  • Studies about the effectiveness of 4-day workweeks show that it’s possible to get 100% of our work done in 80% of the time, meaning most employees are spending 400 hours per year at work that could otherwise be spent with families, friends, or personal pursuits.

So: this book is for anyone who thinks we’ve gotta change that! It’s especially for folks who have experienced great work in their lives, or heard about it from friends, and want more. And for those of you who think, “Yes, all of that. And with a side effect of more human flourishing,” I hope you’ve found your jam.

This is a book for people who suspect there might be more to the story.

There’s something strange happening that goes beyond ”welp, hard work is hard!”

  • For big companies, consolidation and the benefits of scale are culling the less-successful and concentrating success at the top. The tenure of the companies listed on the S&P 500 is now down to 18 years; contrast that with 60 years in 1958.

  • Small companies may have the benefit of unbelievable new technologies that allow faster scale than ever – witness the speed at which Uber or Snapchat reached $1b in capitalization or valuation (around 2-3 years) as compared to the average Fortune 500 company (around 20 years) – but the rate of new firm creation is down 20%, and the share of employment held by new firms is down 17 points.

  • Despite the creation and commercialization of amazing new technologies like cloud computing and generative artificial intelligence, we’re not much more productive as a global economy than we were in ____. (Heck, you can even lump smartphones and email into this bucket of techologies that should have had a massive impact on productivity, but didn’t.)

This is a book that introduces a new model to help anyone, regardless of their role in the organization, to participate in the design of better work.

At the beginning of 2020, in the midst of some deep client work on scaled organizational change, I kept feeling like the language and presentation of organization design frameworks weren't serving me as well as I wanted.

Everything felt like a thing people look at, but don't really do anything about. (That is, unless you're in the c-suite. But the reality is that org design work happens all the time, everywhere in the business. Not just at the top.)

I stumbled upon a handful of questions that aren't necessarily new to the org design world, but felt more useful than the existing models in addressing the most important issues for folks up (further from the customer) and down (closer to the customer) the organization.

  1. Do we have the right parts, set up the right way? (Configuration)

  2. Are we headed in the right direction? (Orientation)

  3. Are the right people doing enough of the right work? (Delegation)

  4. Are we getting better and smarter every day? (Education)

If we can answer "yes" to all four of those questions, everything will work out OK. When we answer "no" to any of them, things start to get off-track.

The attribute for each item made a handy acronym: CODE.

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