The Silicon Valley Manifesto & The Dirty Secret of Success

Netflix - The Silicon Valley Manifesto

It’s rather en vogue right now, not only in the hallways and boardrooms of Silicon Valley, but also in hallways and boardrooms of small and mid-size business, to put Process’ head in the guillotine. Over the last few years, process has become a pariah among the most cutting-edge, forward-thinking, and avant-garde companies. Somehow, process has become foreshadow of “the death of creativity” and the “stifling of innovation”.

No one wants to deal with it, no one wants see its terrible name scribbled on the whiteboards, see it infiltrate work emails, and, generally impinge, and potentially collapse the supersonic speed of business. It’s a pretty loathsome, cumbersome word; a large gray box that barricades creativity, innovation, and inserts Jersey barriers at every step.

Instead, we have businesses going all-in on the concepts of the “High Performance People” – better known as “Rockstars”, spontaneous creative genius, and the idea that these Rockstars will embrace corporate and fiduciary responsibility en lieu of adhering to a process.

Enter what Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, has called, “one of the most important documents to come out of Silicon Valley.” Enter the Netflix Deck.

The Silicon Valley Business Culture Manifesto - Killing Process

The Silicon Valley Way

The deck above has been shaping Silicon Valley’s business culture and practices for over half a decade. It’s safe to say it’s their manifesto; the gospel of tech culture according to Netflix. There’s tons of aspirational, utopic new-wave corporate ideas in those slides that would seem to transform any business (large or small). And, as with anything that presents itself as a new revolution, there are some things Netflix gets right and some things that are simply are negligent of human psychology, behavior, and the real-world function of business mechanics.

What The Silicon Valley Way Gets Right

The corporate values are hard to disagree with; every company should be looking to foster:

  • strategic thinking
  • a culture of listening
  • treating coworkers with respect and honesty
  • a results-focused, passionate, knowledge/learning-hungry culture
  • information-sharing across silos and departments
  • and, of course, a culture of creativity

It’s certainly is better than four or five vapid corporate standbys (i.e., loyalty, courage, leadership, etc.), offering nothing more than dissipation from a distance, and, really, have become faux-guideposts.

I also agree with the idea of acquiring high performance, “stunning” talent for the business. The larger concentration you can gather in a single environment, the greater the likelihood of long-standing innovation and success.

And, in theory, I can relate to a utopic environment built on responsibility and freedom, where the larger a company grows the larger the boundaries of freedom. That’s the big-enchilada-in-the-sky dream, right? I get to do what I love without being bogged down in the crossfire of corporate bureaucracy and gear-grinding process. It’s inspiring, to be sure.


What The Silicon Valley Manifesto Gets Wrong

Like many manifestos before it, they simply choose to bypass reality when it inconveniences the larger message. It’s corporate anorexia, and choosing to starve yourself of the realities to maintain an image that looks “normal” to you, but is grossly deviating from reality. Particularly, the ideas of process killing creativity and limiting freedom in a “highly driven, high performance” culture, and how cultivating a team of “all-stars” for every open position is nice in theory, but simply isn’t reality.

Too Many All-Stars In The Kitchen

High performers/Rockstars/All-Stars are like four-leaf clovers; a lucky and extremely rare find. There are lots of “Paper Rockstars”, meaning those whose resume makes them look stratospheric, but in real-time, fold like a cheap suit. It’s admirable, of course, to want to hire high performers for every available position; they simply don’t exist in abundance, not enough to fill even a 10 person company. However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume you get 10 genuine Rockstars on the team. How do you think that’s going to go?

The answer: not well. Rockstars are who they are because they are not only bright, tenacious, and competitive, but they also GSD (get shit done). They are the connective glue that teams rely upon to not only pull everyone together, but raise everyone up by carrying the largest loads. Rockstars also come with egos; when you’re among the best at what you do, people know about it. And, if we couple this fact with what we know about any professional sports team (pulled directly from the manifesto), we know that too many egos are destructive. Think of any team that had too many superstars on a single team – each one wanted to the hero, each one needed their spotlight, and each one needed to out alpha the other. It simply turns into a loosely-stitched-together pissing match of egos and talent.

That’s a broad sweeping generalization to be sure, but there can only be so many alphas in a space in any given time. That’s simply anthropology and sociology at work; one or two people will emerge as the clear Rockstars. It creates an ultra-competitive, cut-throat environment that hinders the overall effort. The others that don’t emerge, still Rockstars in their own right, must become subservient, possibly lose confidence, and likely develop animosity toward the team and company.

Moreover, Rockstars burn out. Everyone needs a breather, everyone needs to be able to take their foot off the gas. Rockstars put in this position – fixed at their maximum speed of work velocity and creativity for too long – simply burn down. They’re human too. They will make mistakes, they will forget a detail, they will saw, “screw this,” too. Everything about this concept and model is pure horseshit.

Process Killed The Rockstar?

It all depends on how you view process. If your business philosophy views process as an inflexible, rigid thing, then it will absolutely become a creativity killer. However, if you view process as something more fluid, that can adapt as necessary to new realities and atmosphere, then process becomes a tremendous support structure and assistant to creativity, freedom, and workflow. But, that’s the knife-edge process balances on.

The Netflix “Fourth Option” is rubbish. As stated above, high performance Rockstars isn’t a solution; a company won’t be able to stock an entire company full of them, nor will they play nicely together. And, certainly not at the speed at which a company would need to stave off implementing some process. Nor will it “kill innovation and creativity”. It’s a delusional fantasy. Process, if it’s implemented in a fashion that makes it more like guardrails instead of railroad tracks, has the ability to keep “chaos” at bay, while also allowing those using it to make it better. Essentially it comes down to whether or not your executive team is flexible: do they have the ability to innovate their own minds instead of living on auto-pilot?

Process isn’t stonework. No one is chiseling process in stone tables or granite, and declaring, “IT MUST BE DONE THIS WAY EACH AND EVERY TIME!” However, if process is viewed as something more permeable, then it can be shaped, and re-shaped, as the situation calls for. Process is simply another word for discipline, and process helps to produce repetition, which in turn helps to mitigate uncertainty and fear, in my view. These are core, essential elements to fostering creativity: moving beyond fear and infusing discipline.

Folks bound to the Silicon Valley Manifesto method are no doubt living in a constant state of fear to produce efficiently and profitably at 100 MPH, but also creative, innovative, ground-breaking shit. Day-in, day-out. It’s not sustainable for anyone.

Process is the dirty secret to success. It creates stability and efficiency, allow Rockstars and “Average Joe/Jane” employees alike to lean on it, and can help to foster more creativity when fear of screwing up is removed from the equation. Removing process is suicidal, just as putting process on a pedestal and carving it in stone is equally detrimental.

As a post-script, Patty McCord, the author of the Netflix deck (a.k.a. The Silicon Valley Manifesto) was “moved on” from Netflix almost 3 years ago. And, a special thank you to Monica Wright, who as of late, has been an incredible Muse and friend, and without this tweet, might have never sparked me to pen this post.

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