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Values show up at the extremities

“A gentleman is a gentleman even in the gutter.”

Popular Romanian Proverb

What are your values? How do you find out? How do you test them? How do you know whether your values are really your values?

There are countless exercises designed to help a company find its values. And they are no doubt very effective at generating a consensus set of values that everyone can get behind. I am in some doubt as to whether those can uncover true values. I think only hard experience can test whether a value is truly held or merely a cosmetic convenience.

Values are oh so fragile. As my father put more eloquently than me in this article, everyone agrees with all the values, the question is, which do they put first? When trying times come around, when we have every justification to break our own values, to make an exception, to bypass the principle and to achieve a necessary, important objective, do we?

The more I observe the dynamics at play in a company like GrantTree, the more it seems to me that it is precisely in those moments that our true values are revealed. Moreover, I don’t think there is any other way to reveal them for sure.

An old principle

This is not news. No truly powerful idea is, I suppose. Jesus is reported to have once said1:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

It’s easy to love our friends. It’s easy to have values when they are untested. It’s cheap to have principles when everything is going well. But what do we do when there is real pain and loss and danger at hand? What do we do when faced with those we hate, in person or behaviour? What do we do under real pressure?

Business has a habit of throwing difficult situations at us on a regular basis. There is real work to be done, there are real stakes, things to be gained and lost right now. It maybe does not happen every day, but a business will frequently test our values.

The enemies of our values

There are certain sentences and idea fragments that I often find rising out of the ground like walls, in the way of a consistent application of our values. This is by no means a complete glossary, just a sketch of a few known shapes that the foe might take. Perhaps they can help us recognise when we are being tested.

“But these are special circumstances”

When faced with testing circumstances, it can be very tempting to carve out an exception because the situation is unique. Of course, every single situation we will ever face in our lives is unique. The world does not repeat itself.

If we give in to the temptation to carve, soon there will be nothing but holes in our principles.

Instead, we could accept the uniqueness of the circumstances, and figure out how we can successfully apply our principles to these circumstances.

“But we are running a business here”

Necessity is the mother not just of invention but also of compromise. Often, when a value is being tested, this is the shape of the challenge. Everyone has their own idea of what “running a business” means, of course, but when they bring up this bogeyman they are really saying that they are afraid that the principle or value is not compatible with the survival of the business, immediate or more distant.

If we sacrifice our principles on the altar of survival or profit, they are not really principles at all.

Instead, we could listen with compassion to the fear, accept it, embrace it, and speak to it. Many things can cause fear in the world of business, and we will find ways to be ourselves even in fearful circumstances.

“But we don’t want to set a precedent that could be abused”

This is another message of fear. In a trust-based, open culture environment, there are countless things done every day that could be abused by a “bad actor”. Open cultures rely on the Theory Y model of trusting that people will be good rather than bad. There can and will be exceptions, but my observation is that the benefits far outweigh the occasional, rare, and inevitable abuse.

It is of course very hard to trust Mr X, the future hire who we don’t know, and who therefore may well behave according to Theory X, and be selfish, potentially abusive, and who therefore needs to be controlled. It can be easy to fall into the trap of assuming that we must design the systems, the processes, the precedents, to prevent Mr X from abusing the company.

Instead, we could recognise that Mr X is a bogeyman, and replace him in our minds with people we know and understand within our teams. Would the process or decision work in their case? Would they abuse it? Hopefully the answer is “of course not”, and we can put the bogeyman to rest.

“But this person is really bad/misguided/wrong”

The last and perhaps most difficult shape is that of the evil one. When circumstances conspire to make us see the other as The Other, as the Stranger, the Evil, who cannot be reasoned with because this is just how he is, this is his nature, unchangeable. He is Evil and so there is only one thing to do: fight.

One might think that it would be easy to recognise and ignore this bias, but in my experience it is the hardest to defeat. What is violence? Disconnection, from ourselves and from others2. What is its opposite? Connection and love. When faced with someone we perceive as evil, the natural response is violence. Who wants to connect to evil, to love evil? Jesus’s admonition, his central message of love, is heavy… like a cross?

It is so very easy to slip on the battle gear and go to war.

Instead, if only we could find compassion for the other person. If only we could make room within ourselves for the possibility that they are not evil, nor even misguided, but merely see the world in a different way, or are simply angry or fearful themselves. And if we could fight that anger and fear and disconnection with love. But this is very hard work.

If we only could, though, once a connection is built, even just one way, it becomes once again possible to stick to our principles.

Are all your values there yet?

I wish I could say that I have “won” every one of these struggles. I haven’t, not by a long shot. It’s hard to stick to your principles under pressure.

I think it’s important to conclude by noting that just because we fail at our desired values once, or even over and over again, doesn’t mean we don’t care about them. We are but human. All we can ask of ourselves is to recognise the failure and try to do better next time. I imagine this is a lifelong process.


  1. I prefer the King James version. Seems more Biblical

  2. And when we give in to the urge for violence we disconnect not only from the other but also from our own self, giving rise to more violence, both internal and external.

022 – Controlled Explosion

Released: October 14th, 2015. Mixcloud link

A high energy, low tempo set – the entire thing is steady at 120bpm, but it’s heavy, bass-y, and definitely energetic. Features my latest track, Expelliarmus, as well as too many other awesome track to list them all… but watch out particularly for MM, Kontrol, and Hypernova.

Download link here. (right click and Save As…)

021 – Lights and Spaces

Released: October 11th, 2015. Mixcloud link

This set is a journey! Begin with chilled out tracks by Henry Saiz, Marc Romboy, Luke Chable and others, gently raising the energy, then, halfway in, pick up the pace markedly, featuring, in the second half, the likes of Laurent Garnier, Marco Bailey, Robert Babicz, King Unique a classic track by Killahurtz, and finishing with a Kasey Taylor/Luke Chable monster ch00n.

Miraculously, this set is almost exactly two hours.

Download link here. (right click and Save As…)

020 – Beautiful Breaker

Released: October 7th, 2015. Mixcloud link

Club sounds? We got em. Digweed & Muir, Lexicon Avenue, Underworld, Paneoh, Marco Bailey, a classic Narcotic Thrust track and more! Get your blood up and going. Enjoy.

Download link here. (right click and Save As…)

019 – Supernatural Garden Nights

Released: September 20th, 2015. Mixcloud link

A pleasant jaunt through some lovely melodic tracks (featuring tracks by Henry Saiz, 16 Bit Lolitas and others), building up to a manageable high near the end (another great mix of Tribe of the Disco Kings, and a couple of other moderately high energy tracks) and putting you back down nicely with a fantastic Röyksopp remix of an excellent track by The Irrepressibles.

Download link here. (right click and Save As…)

018 – Shake It On

Released: September 13th, 2015. Mixcloud link

A high-energy set, including no less than three tracks produced by myself! Two of them are (heavily edited) remixes. One (the very first track of the set) is a completely original production. This set starts off slow but heavy and takes you up a few notches. Enjoy!

Download link here. (right click and Save As…)

Alternatives to Amazon in the UK

(click here or scroll down for the alternatives)

Disclaimer: this article is my opinion based on numerous articles that I’ve read. I do not know anyone who works at Amazon right now.Amazon boot stamping on human face, forever

You’d have to be living under a rock to have missed the recent flurry of articles on the topic of Amazon’s working practices. This latest wave was kicked off by an in-depth, researched piece published by the New York Times, titled Inside Amazon: Wrestling Ideas in a Bruising Workplace.

It paints a picture that is not all that surprising, if you take into account that Amazon is a highly measurement-driven, highly hierarchical workplace. You may take one side or the other of the open vs closed culture discussion, but you can’t disagree that Amazon is a highly refined, ruthlessly effective and sophisticated example of a closed culture.1

The New York Times article should not be surprising to anyone. Despite its attempts to legally muffle employees, stories of Amazon’s behaviour have been leaking out through the years. Not that long ago there was the case I covered in my videocast of Amazon lying to a big customer and being sued by one of its employees who was mistreated in the process. Everyone has heard of the famous warehouse story, where Amazon warehouse workers were made to work in hot warehouses, with ambulances lined up to resuscitate them when they passed out from exhaustion. There are other such stories through the years, and more recently following the NY Times article, if you search for them. Together, they paint a picture that’s hard to deny.

It’s impossible to avoid the obvious truth: by all appearances, Amazon is a company that dehumanises its workers and treats them like easily-discarded tools, that disregards even the most basic human decency, punishing people for getting cancer or having miscarriages, firing people for being distracted by a severe illness in their close family, encouraging the worst aspects of human competitiveness in the workplace. Amazon is a fundamentally distasteful, inhuman workplace. And yet it is also highly successful.

It’s not surprising that Bezos denies knowledge of these dreadful stories, declaring that “this article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know”. Top-down hierarchical companies based on secrecy and dehumanised meritocracy are not great at letting information flow. In fact, one of the stories I linked above involves one of the workers being penalised and then fired for going above his boss to point out a grave ethical problem. As David Heinemeier Hansson puts it, CEOs are the last to know, and declaring that this is not what you intend your company culture to be is not a valid excuse when this is in fact what your company culture is. Culture is what culture does, not what culture says it aspires to.

What led me to write this article, and put together the list below, however, is not just these articles, it’s a question put to us all by Joe Nocera in this op-ed:

For a data-driven executive like Bezos, this kind of culture is appealing, because it maximizes the amount of work a company can wring from fundamentally fungible human beings. The question Amazon’s culture raises is whether it is an outlier — or whether it represents the future of the workplace.

The future of the workplace

Does Amazon represent the future of the workplace? I believe the answer is no. I believe open cultures represent the future of the workplace, not closed ones. If Amazon is to be a pattern for our future, this is a bleak world indeed we are headed for, one which will make the futuristic, corporatist dystopias of Blade Runner or Alien seem prophetic rather than nightmarish.

Do you want to live in such a world?

More to the point, do you want to live in that world, knowing that you personally contributing to helping such a world come about?

Do you want to help bring about a world where humans are fungible and so effectively worthless, a world where the only values are those that can be counted in dollars? A world where you are only as valuable as your immediate market value? A world where coercion, through fear of poverty, is the main motivation for work?

If you do, this article is not for you.

If you don’t, then I humbly suggest to you, as I have to myself, to consider that through your own actions you may be helping bring about this world.

I believe that until Amazon reforms its ways and becomes visibly and transparently a company that is not rife with such awful stories, a company that has at least a modicum of respect for the inherent, intrinsic value of human beings as something other than means to an end, we should all, as human beings, be voting with our feet and picking better alternatives, because otherwise, with each purchase we are helping bring about this awful future.

Some may respond that all companies are equally evil. That is not so. There are many companies out there who adopt principles and values that are human-centric, not just for the bottom line, but because they believe those are the right way to contribute to this world. And even of those companies who are not so principled, most are nowhere near as ruthless to their own people as Amazon appears to be – they at least make some sort of genuine effort to try and care for their employees. Amazon doesn’t even bother pretending.

At this point in time, as people who buy things, I think it’s worth assuming that pretty much any company other than Amazon is better to buy from than Amazon. This is not always possible. Often Amazon can deliver more quickly and more cheaply – some would argue, by externalising a lot of its costs – and sometimes you just need that thing tomorrow… Sometimes Amazon is the only company selling the thing you need. Sometimes the price differential is so large as to make alternatives impractical.

But those are minority cases – composing maybe 20-40% of the times when we buy things online.

Amazon aims to be the “everything store”, but almost everything is also sold by someone else. All that I suggest to readers of this post is to consider the following UK alternatives, that I’ve researched for you, if you’re about to buy something from Amazon. Moving just half of your custom away from Amazon may well impact their bottom line and their growth in a way that will force them to change.

At some point, there has to be a tangible cost to treating people like shit on a large scale. This point is now, and the person who holds the right to pass judgement and to apply the sentence is you.

Amazon alternatives in the UK

Here then, are some alternatives to Amazon in the UK.

Are some categories that are important to you missing? Let me know, and let me know what alternatives you recommend, and I’ll try to include them here.

Books

The following shops sell both physical books and ebooks online:

Electronics

Amazon is also a very convenient place to buy electronics. But there are alternatives, and sometimes they’re even cheaper, or have broader choices:

Audio equipment

As a DJ, I care about this…

Music & Movies & Games

Groceries

Most UK supermarkets do online shopping and delivery these days.

Home goods

DIY

Conclusion

This list is by no means complete. But it should provide you with a starting point if you want to use alternatives to Amazon for at least part of your purchasing.

I don’t think it’s realistic to expect to move all your shopping off Amazon. I know I will still be using Amazon for some things. But if I can move even half my shopping off Amazon, I think that’s already something gained.

What you actually do with the information in this post is, of course, in your hands.

The future of work is in your hands.


  1. Using the “colour language” of Reinventing Organisations, where Genghis Khan’s Mongol Horde was a highly effective red organisation, Amazon is a highly effective orange organisation. We may find its mode of operation distasteful but we can’t deny its effectiveness for certain objectives.

017 – Heart of Apollo

Released: August 23rd, 2015. Mixcloud link

A mix that begins with some building tension and then, er, builds that tension up. Featuring some of the tracks from Bedrock’s new Underground Sounds of Ibiza album, as well as some classics like Apollo Vibes, some percussive tracks, and kicking off (right after the opener) with an awesome track by Abdulla Rashim. Enjoy!

Download link here. (right click and Save As…)

016 – Henry Doesn’t Say

Released: August 10th, 2015. Mixcloud link

A very, very laid back set (at least at the beginning), with several tracks from Henry Saiz (hence the absurdly funny title… right? right?), building up to the fantastic “Sunday Blue Sky” by Grum, and then coming back down nicely. Enjoy while nursing a beer, a cocktail, or a hangover.

Download link here. (right click and Save As…)

 

015 – Crookabooka

Released: July 23rd, 2015. Mixcloud link

An enjoyable romp through some good bouncy clubbing tracks, beginning with an old, awesome classic by Marc Romboy and Booka Shade, and ending with an even older and even more awesome classic track, crossing through some truly excellent tracks – most recommended is the penultimate track, an ultra-bouncy King Unique remix of Robert Babicz.

Download link here. (right click and Save As…)

 

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