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The second gate

Engywook:
Next is the Magic Mirror Gate. Atreyu will have to look his true self in the face.

Falcor:
So? That shouldn’t be so hard.

Engywook:
Oh, that’s what everyone thinks! But kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men find out that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away, screaming!

Paulina and I walked past a homeless person yesterday, outside Hoxton station. He was asking for… something. I’m not even sure what. Like we often do in this city, I blanked him, almost, it felt, out of self defence against what I perceive as an overwhelming tide of wrongness that he represented to my subconscious.

As I walked away, my thoughts evolved through a few stages. First, I felt sad at his suffering, and guilty for having blanked him. Then, I felt angry at the way this city is so full of utterly unnecessary misery. We have more than enough wealth in the U.K. and in London to take care of everyone so no one has to sleep on the street. Then, I felt angry at the hypocrisy of this system we live in, that preaches its high virtues around the world and yet leaves people sleeping on the street on a cold January night and sells weapons to Saudi Arabia to kill children with.

Finally I landed on the more painful truth: this hypocrisy is also my own. I felt repelled by this homeless person because he reflected my own, powerless hypocrisy to me. I am part of that system. I benefit from it. It treats me well.

I am not doing “nothing” to change it, but the fact remains that I have a comfortable place (however much I may feel like I worked for and earned it) in this system that treats people in a way that I find unconscionable. And despite my efforts in changing things via my business, by creating a more conscious organisation, it feels like there is an ocean of work to be done and I am making just a few drops of difference, maybe.

Whenever I look at a homeless person, that is what is facing me, and making it hard to stay conscious and present: the awareness of both the hypocrisy of my position, and the sense of powerlessness.

And yet another part of me also speaks up, quoting that great book, “Cloud Atlas”: “And what is an ocean, but a multitude of drops?”

So, keep trying. And next time I will try to remain conscious and face myself in that mirror of the other.

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.

Why an open salary policy always wins

Great article by Dane Atkinson, kind of reiterating some of the points I’ve made here and here. Key conclusion:

If you intend to be evil, open salaries and transparency are not for you. If you hide salary information from employees, you will live in terror (one reason CFOs are exceptionally well-paid). Eventually, compensation secrets always leak and employees leave the company without discussion. People get too distressed and offended to talk about secrets they shouldn’t know.

Shadows are home to inequality, fear and resentment. In business, some of the most basic moral principles are violated under the banner of discretion, privacy and efficiency. You can build your culture of transparency on a foundation of white lies, and watch it crumble beneath your employees. Or you can let all the data flow. What are you hiding?

Not much to add, really! Read the whole thing here.

On my way to work, Ep 12 – Your beliefs have power

Summary:

  • This is almost a boring, clichéed, cheesy idea these days, that your beliefs have power. But it’s a powerful idea.
  • Obviously beliefs don’t drive everything. If you get hit by a bus or run over by a train, no matter how much you may believe in your eventual success, you’re probably not going to make it. Luck drives our lives as well.
  • But beliefs drive actions, not just the actions you take but also the options you see.
  • If you see everything as black, pointless, your actions will reflect that. You’re going to create a world around you that is pointless, has no substance to it, etc.
  • If you believe that people are worthwhile, generous, worth putting energy into, that’ll drive your actions too. The world, people around you, respond to that.
  • If you want to have the greatest impact on the culture of the company (no matter where you are in that company) the highest point of leverage where you can make changes is yourself.
  • Like all good ideas, this is nothing new.
  • The point of this is just to realise that, quite the opposite from feeling powerless about the world around you, you have enormous power to shape the world around you by the beliefs you apply to it.
  • Another converse of that thought is the idea that if you do see the world as drab and featureless and full of blame and things that are trying to hurt you, it’s all inside of you. Maybe the world has done something that you perceived as a trigger, that you thought justified you in feeling a certain way, but in the end the bit you can choose, you have power over, is your reaction. This is mentioned in Seven Habits, via a therapist called Victor Frankl, who survived the death camps and even in that environment, realised that although he could not control the environment, he could control how he reacted to the environment he was in.
  • That’s a very inspiring thought: if you’re feeling bad, you have the power to shape your perception of the world, and that perception then shapes how the world actually is. Your thoughts, which you have enormous control over, change everything. You have the power.
  • Whatever you think, you can make happen. Whatever you want, you can be.
  • I’d also like to take a minute to rant against people who take this “Law of Attraction” to the extreme. Being hit by a bus will seriously impact your ability to “achieve your dreams”.
  • You can’t change everything about the world. No matter how much you believe you’re going to grow back a limb that you’ve lost, it’s not going to grow back. People who discover this Law of Attraction (and unfortunately that includes many writers), like the author of the Secret, or Think and Grow Rich, that they present it as the one idea that solves everything, perhaps as a sales trick.
  • That’s a terribly insulting perspective to have to all the people who are in truly dire situations and do not have the opportunities we have around us. When you use this idea, remember that some people do not have all these opportunities available to them.
  • Another inspiring idea: the world we live in is so full of opportunities that the Law of Attraction largely does work for us most of the time. Spare a moment for those for whom it doesn’t.

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