I never planned to do a series of articles, but this write-up almost came as a natural follow-up to the post I wrote last week about Context over Control and the future of remote work. Last week I explored the ground rules of the future of work. Specifically, I talked about how and why the fundamental prerequisites of work have changed. Here I’m taking a step further and describing some of the literature behind today’s organizations’ communication systems. What they’re made of, why they can be so impactful in today’s organizations, and how they’re related to the concept of remote working.
On to the write-up.
A good internal design communication system is one of the most important leverages an organization can have to make an impact.
In 2011, a post came out under the name of Stevey’s Google Platforms Rant. I have revisited the article over and over again over the years (if you haven’t read it yet it really is fantastic) and to this day I think this is the single best article I’ve ever read about organization architecture and the management of IT.
Yegge’s rant is about what he’s noticed after spending 6 years at Amazon and 6 years at Google.
In short: Amazon figured out how to serve customers. It started out serving Amazon.com but critically, as Yegge noted, the relationship was very much at arm’s length: AWS has always treated Amazon.com no differently than any outside user, which prepared it to offer the right sort of services for any scalable web service. On the other side, Google, with its Cloud provider, Google Platform, does not serve most Google Products. In other words, while Amazon did manage to have discipline towards internal dogfooding, Google didn’t. And that made a world of difference.
In recent years, I started to realize that what I noted above was actually the gist of that post, but it was not the most interesting thing about it.
In the article, Yegge (again, read it if you haven’t yet) describes an internal Email Jeff Bezos sent to the 150-odd Amazon employees. Quoting Yegge’s post, the email was along these lines:
1) All teams will henceforth expose their data and functionality through service interfaces.
2) Teams must communicate with each other through these interfaces.
3) There will be no other form of interprocess communication allowed: no direct linking, no direct reads of another team’s data store, no shared-memory model, no back-doors whatsoever. The only communication allowed is via service interface calls over the network.
4) It doesn’t matter what technology they use. HTTP, Corba, Pubsub, custom protocols — doesn’t matter. Bezos doesn’t care.
5) All service interfaces, without exception, must be designed from the ground up to be externalizable. That is to say, the team must plan and design to be able to expose the interface to developers in the outside world. No exceptions.
6) Anyone who doesn’t do this will be fired.
7) Thank you; have a nice day!
Now I think that this internal email is what has actually stuck with me the most. Bezos realized that he had to change the internal communication infrastructure before he could actually change the byproduct of the organization.
He understood that a radical organizational change was required to arrange the internal dynamics in a way that would allow the creation of something like AWS.
Specifically, what he got right was an internal communication system designed to (1) embrace accessibility as its most important commandment in order to (2) enable a strong platform mindset and (3) incentivize extreme dogfooding.
While the third point makes all the difference in the world, what Amazon really did get right that Google didn’t was an internal communication system designed to make all the rest possible.
Having teams acting like individual APIs and interacting with one another through interfaces over the network was the catalyst of a series of consequent actions that eventually made possible the realization of AWS in a way that couldn’t have been possible otherwise.
To this day I think the Amazon example might be one of the clearest case manifestations of Conway’s Law.
Organizations which design systems are restricted to producing designs which are copies of their own communication structures.
Frameworks for organization structures
Back to the initial premise of this article, it’s amazing how powerful and impactful internal communication infrastructures can be to an organization: from day-to-day operations, to its culture, to the actual end-to-end user’s product.
There is one more additional point about Amazon’s case that is worth keeping in mind: Amazon didn’t perform any reorganization after Bezos’s mandate. The internal organization structure was already there: same people, same teams, same chain management. What changed was the airflow: the policies, the processes, and the communications interfaces that regulated the internal dynamics of day-to-day operations. In other words, Amazon’s highly divisional organization was already suitable for such a big change.
Communication infrastructures are highly dependent on the organizational structures that are already in place. Because organizational structures depend on the people who are part of the company, these changes tend to happen over long time-frames (if they happen at all).
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what possible types of organizational structure there are, and what they empower.
Functional organizations are organized around areas of expertise. Apple might be one of the most renowned examples of a functional organization. In the case of Apple, that means that design is one group (previously under Ive), product marketing is another (under Schiller), and operations a third (under Williams, who is also Chief Operating Officer), etc.
Functional Organization structure came to light as the embodiment of Fayol’s idea of unity of direction. The consequence of this principle is encapsulated in the name itself; an optimal shared level of consistency, coordination, and alignment across the entire organization. This, as in the case of Apple, often translates to vastly superior customer experiences.
On the other end, functional organizations tend to come with a lot of internal bureaucracy. Deep alignment and consistency come at the cost of a slower and more rigid organization. Because of the low level of team autonomy, in these types of organizations, innovation tends to have a top-down (rather than bottom-up) trajectory.
At the perennial opposite of the spectrum, we find divisional organizations. Divisional organizations sacrifice Fayol’s principle of unity of direction and are organized around products rather than expertise. They started to be part of the playbook after DuPont’s famous reorganization in 1900.
Amazon is probably the best-known case of divisional organization. The two-pizza teams (introduced in its early years, and still used today), their most common internal division, are the ultimate embodiment of a divisional organization. In these organizations, product teams act as independent entities within the wider organization. They have their own marketing, sales, engineering and finance functions so that each has autonomy and accountability. Each product has its own profit-and-loss statement (P&L), whereas Apple famously had a single P&L.
Two-pizza teams excel at agility, structure, clarity, speed of (mainly bottom-up) innovation, meaning, and impact. On the other hand, this profound divisional organization comes at the cost of inconsistency, a high-maintenance communication structure and an inferior product experience. As Yegge rightly noticed in his rant:
“Amazon’s recruiting process is fundamentally flawed by having teams hire for themselves, so their hiring bar is incredibly inconsistent across teams, despite various efforts they’ve made to level it out.”
Then there are hybrid organization structures. Fundamentally, these are either functional organizations that adopted some divisional principles or vice-versa. One example that immediately comes to mind is Netflix.
As CEO Reed Hastings wrote, in the Highly aligned, loosely coupled principle:
“As companies grow, they often become highly centralized and inflexible. Symptoms include:
1) Senior management is involved in many small decisions.
2) There are numerous cross-departmental buy-in meetings to socialize tactics.
3) Pleasing other internal groups takes precedence over pleasing customers
4) The organization is highly coordinated and less prone to error, but slow and frustrating.
We avoid this by being highly aligned and loosely coupled. We spend lots of time debating strategy together, and then trust each other to execute on tactics without prior approvals. Often, two groups working on the same goals won’t know of or have approval over their peers’ activities. If later the activities don’t seem right, we have a candid discussion. We may find that the strategy was too vague or the tactics were not aligned with the agreed strategy. And we discuss generally how we can do better in the future.
The success of a “Highly Aligned, Loosely Coupled” work environment is dependent upon the collaborative efforts of high-performance individuals and effective context. Ultimately, the end goal is to grow the business for bigger impact while increasing flexibility and agility. We seek to be big, fast and nimble.”
Frameworks for internal communications
Internal communication frameworks are like air traffic control, coordinating internal policies, procedures, and interfaces. There are many ways communication frameworks can be described, but generally, they can be part of a single spectrum: synchronous communication vs asynchronous communication.
Synchronous vs Asynchronous communication
In traditional, co-located teams, most of the communications take place here and now, or synchronously. Everybody on the team is focused on the same things at the same time. Meetings, brainstorming sessions, 1:1, sync-ups, discussing problems over lunch, catching up in coffee-breaks, and many other ways to interact with each other are all synchronous forms of communication.
These dynamics change when physical proximity is not part of the equation anymore. Remote teams tend to have little synchronous time and most of the work is coordinated online and asynchronously. Asynchronous frameworks allow us to exchange information at a convenient time for each participant in the process, independently of each other. Data is sent and received with a delay.
Interestingly, communication frameworks can work quite independently from the organization’s location. I haven’t found a single chart that captures the essence of how current internal comms frameworks are related to companies’ locations:
This is by far the most traditional and common approach of the last century. Apple is one of the major embodiments of a co-located synchronous organization. Most of the companies that follow a similar configuration tend to be highly functionally organized.
Back to my previous point: these organizations are highly coordinated and synchronized through centralization, but they tend to be rigid and slow. Moreover, this slowness increases exponentially with headcount, making reorganization even more difficult.
There is one more additional point about co-located synchronous organization that is worth keeping in mind: it’s hard for them to implement principles of divisional organization and asynchronous communication, or to embrace a remote strategy.
These are co-located companies that operate from the same location with asynchronous principles, Amazon being a prime example.
To return to Yegge’s rent, the entire communication system in Amazon privileges autonomy and independence. SOA-mindset is deeply embedded in the culture. Teams are used to interacting like APIs in an asynchronous fashion.
No doubt meetings are quite limited at Amazon as they represent an interference in the usual communication between independent units or teams, as opposed to Apple, where meetings are catalysts of ideas and discussions.
At the very end of the spectrum, an organization can also be distributed. In distributed organizations, there’s no physical presence (no HQs or other forms of operative locations). Teams’ autonomy is highly decentralized and localized at the edges. The asynchronous approach is the de facto setting for these types of configurations. It’s common for distributed teams to rely on divisional organizations and turn physical constraints into a competitive advantage.
Co-located organizations do not necessarily operate according to synchronous principles, similarily distributed organizations do not necessarily have to operate in an asynchronous fashion. InVision is one of the biggest organizations out there that embraced this hybrid form of collaboration early on. As a distributed organization they don’t have any HQs but they tend to operate from the same time zone (9 AM – 9 PM EST).
Interestingly, they’ve decided to settle on a particular compromise. Fundamentally, they are still a synchronous company but with a 50% time span (and some policies surrounding that) , and a minimum of 4 hours overlap. They still need to be async on any given level, but that minimum sync time gives them room to be less rigid around documentations and be more responsive in case of emergency.
Asynchronous frameworks for internal communication give organizations that have a physical presence (main HQ) the opportunity to expand and embrace remote working more easily. Basecamp is headquartered in Chicago, even though a huge part of the team is spread out across 32 cities around the world.
Asynchronous = Optionality
As I hope is now obvious, there’s no single way to organize remote work and there’s no evidence to form any strong conclusions about the efficacy of one configuration versus another.
One thing that is worth considering though is that an asynchronous setting gives more optionality. It allows you to reorganize the company in a divisional organization more easily and embrace remote working even if you’re co-located. Everything that works in an async fashion can also work sync but not vice-versa.
On the other hand, it’s way harder for co-located sync organizations to expand into adjacent areas and experiment with other configurations.
As more and more teams are embracing some form of distributed model because it widens the talent pool from which they can recruit, transitions to asynchronous communication will become more evident.
The caveat here is that asynchronous communication can be very daunting at the beginning because it requires more processes, documentation, and infrastructure than synchronous communication. While synchronous communication tends to scale linearly, asynchronous communication follows a logarithmic trajectory and its efficiency surplus is only observable in the long run.
In my latest essay, I argued that part of the neoclassical economic literature on marginal productivity is fundamentally flawed. And because it’s incredibly hard to measure software productivity, it’s also quite impossible to hash out what can be the most productive remote configurations. That being said, here are some final thoughts based on these considerations:
- An organization’s communication system can be one of the most important leverages you can have to make an impact on productivity. Be very intentional about it.
- There are different distribution patterns for teams, not just a simple co-located versus distributed dichotomy. The advantages, disadvantages and effective techniques for multi-site teams will often differ.
- Most groups of people will be more effective when working co-located due to the richer communications they have. But don’t forget that some people seem to be more effective in a remote-first model.
- Never forget that organizations can adopt asynchronous communication or synchronous communication regardless of their physical presence.
- Asynchronous communication is the form of internal communications that gives most optionality, and it’s preferable if you’re going to opt for a divisional organization. But it comes at the cost of high maintenance, which can be daunting, especially in the early days.
- When using a remote working pattern, pay attention to how the communication patterns form. Invest in improving communication, including travel and technology.
Hugh MacLeod’s cartoon is a pitch-perfect symbol of an unorthodox school of management based on the axiom that organizations don’t suffer pathologies; they are intrinsically pathological constructs.
.. So while most management literature is about striving relentlessly towards an ideal by executing organization theories completely, this school, which I’ll call the Whyte school, would recommend that you do the bare minimum organizing to prevent chaos, and then stop. Let a natural, if declawed, individualist Darwinism operate beyond that point. The result is the MacLeod hierarchy. It may be horrible, but like democracy, it is the best you can do.
.. The Sociopath (capitalized) layer comprises the Darwinian/Protestant Ethic will-to-power types who drive an organization to function despite itself. The Clueless layer is what Whyte called the “Organization Man,” but the archetype inhabiting the middle has evolved a good deal since Whyte wrote his book (in the fifties). The Losers are not social losers (as in the opposite of “cool”), but people who have struck bad bargains economically – giving up capitalist striving for steady paychecks.
.. The Sociopaths defeated the Organization Men and turned them into The Clueless not by reforming the organization, but by creating a meta-culture of Darwinism in the economy: one based on job-hopping, mergers, acquisitions, layoffs, cataclysmic reorganizations, outsourcing, unforgiving start-up ecosystems, and brutal corporate raiding. In this terrifying meta-world of the Titans, the Organization Man became the Clueless Man. Today, any time an organization grows too brittle, bureaucratic and disconnected from reality, it is simply killed, torn apart and cannibalized, rather than reformed. The result is the modern creative-destructive life cycle of the firm, which I’ll call the MacLeod Life Cycle.
.. Based on the MacLeod lifecycle, we can also separate the three layers based on the timing of their entry and exit into organizations. The Sociopaths enter and exit organizations at will, at any stage, and do whatever it takes to come out on top. The contribute creativity in early stages of a organization’s life, neurotic leadership in the middle stages, and cold-bloodedness in the later stages, where they drive decisions like mergers, acquisitions and layoffs that others are too scared or too compassionate to drive. They are also the ones capable of equally impersonally exploiting a young idea for growth in the beginning, killing one good idea to concentrate resources on another at maturity, and milking an end-of-life idea through harvest-and-exit market strategies.
.. The Losers like to feel good about their lives. They are the happiness seekers, rather than will-to-power players, and enter and exit reactively, in response to the meta-Darwinian trends in the economy. But they have no more loyalty to the firm than the Sociopaths. They do have a loyalty to individual people, and a commitment to finding fulfillment through work when they can, and coasting when they cannot.
.. The Clueless are the ones who lack the competence to circulate freely through the economy (unlike Sociopaths and Losers), and build up a perverse sense of loyalty to the firm, even when events make it abundantly clear that the firm is not loyal to them. To sustain themselves, they must be capable of fashioning elaborate delusions based on idealized notions of the firm — the perfectly pathological entities we mentioned.
.. Unless squeezed out by forces they cannot resist, they hang on as long as possible, long after both Sociopaths and Losers have left
.. The Gervais Principle is this:
Sociopaths, in their own best interests, knowingly promote over-performing losers into middle-management, groom under-performing losers into sociopaths, and leave the average bare-minimum-effort losers to fend for themselves.
.. The Gervais principle differs from the Peter Principle, which it superficially resembles. The Peter Principle states that all people are promoted to the level of their incompetence. It is based on the assumption that future promotions are based on past performance. The Peter Principle is wrong for the simple reason that executives aren’t that stupid, and because there isn’t that much room in an upward-narrowing pyramid. They know what it takes for a promotion candidate to perform at the to level. So if they are promoting people beyond their competence anyway, under conditions of opportunity scarcity, there must be a good reason.
.. Scott Adams, seeing a different flaw in the Peter Principle, proposed the Dilbert Principle: that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to middle management to limit the damage they can do. This again is untrue. The Gervais principle predicts the exact opposite: that the most competent ones will be promoted to middle management. Michael Scott was a star salesman before he become a Clueless middle manager. The least competent employees (but not all of them — only certain enlightened incompetents) will be promoted not to middle management, but fast-tracked through to senior management. To the Sociopath level.
.. In Season Three, the Dunder-Mifflin executives decide to merge the Stamford and Scranton branches, laying off much of the latter, including Michael Scott. His counterpart, the Sociopath Stamford branch manager, whose promotion is the premise of the re-org, opportunistically leverages his impending promotion into an executive position at a competitor, leaving the c0mpany in disarray. The Dunder-Mifflin executives, forced to deal with the fallout, cynically play out the now-illogical re-org anyway, shutting down Stamford and leaving Michael with the merged branch instead. The executives (David Wallace and Jan Levinson-Gould) are completely aware of Michael’s utter incompetence. Their calculations are obvious: giving Michael the expanded branch allows them to claim short-term success and buy time to maneuver out of having to personally suffer longer-term consequences.
Jim’s remark on the drama is revealing. Comparing Michael to his exiting sociopath peer he says: “Whatever you say about Michael, he would never have done something like this,” a testament to Michael’s determinedly deluded loyalty to the company that will never be loyal to him. We can safely assume that Michael’s previous promotion to regional manager occurred under similar circumstances of callous short-term calculations by sociopaths.
.. So why is promoting over-performing Losers logical? The simple reason is that if you over-perform at the Loser level, it is clear that you are an idiot. You’ve already made a bad bargain, and now you’re delivering more value than you need to, making your bargain even worse. Unless you very quickly demonstrate that you know your own value by successfully negotiating more money and/or power, you are marked out as an exploitable clueless Loser. At one point, Darryl, angling for a raise, learns to his astonishment that the raise he is asking for would make his salary higher than Michael’s. Michael hasn’t negotiated a better deal in 14 years. Darryl — a minimum-effort Loser with strains of Sociopath — doesn’t miss a step. He convinces and coaches Michael into asking for his own raise, so he can get his.
A Loser who can be suckered into bad bargains is set to become one of the Clueless. That’s why they are promoted: they are worth even more as Clueless pawns in the middle than as direct producers at the bottom, where the average, rationally-disengaged Loser will do. At the bottom, the overperformers can merely add a predictable amount of value. In the middle they can be used by the Sociopaths to escape the consequences of high-risk machinations like re-orgs.
.. The future Sociopath must be an under-performer at the bottom. Like the average Loser, he recognizes that the bargain is a really bad one. Unlike the risk-averse loser though, he does not try to make the best of a bad situation by doing enough to get by. He has no intention of just getting by. He very quickly figures out — through experiments and fast failures — that the Loser game is not worth becoming good at. He then severely under-performs in order to free up energy to concentrate on maneuvering an upward exit. He knows his under-performance is not sustainable, but he has no intention of becoming a lifetime-Loser employee anyway. He takes the calculated risk that he’ll find a way up before he is fired for incompetence.
.. But when the rest of the office learns of Michael’s impending interview (during Michael’s farcical attempts at using a Survivor style contest to choose his successor, which predictably, only Dwight takes seriously), the true Sociopaths act. Jim and his Sociopath girlfriend Karen instantly call up David and announce their candidacies for the same position. Unknown to them, Ryan, the intern-turned-rookie, has also spotted the opportunity. The outcome is spectacular: Ryan gets the job, Michael loses, Karen is promoted to manager of the Utica branch, and Jim — who still has not yet completely embraced his inner Sociopath — returns to Scranton. We learn later — as the Gervais principle would predict — that David Wallace never seriously considered Michael more than a temporary last resort. Much later, in a deposition during Jan’s lawsuit against the company, he reveals that Michael was never a serious candidate.
.. So the Loser — really not a loser at all if you think about it — pays his dues, does not ask for much, and finds meaning in his life elsewhere. For Stanley it is crossword puzzles. For Angela it is a colorless Martha-Stewartish religious life. For Kevin, it is his rock band. For Kelly, it is mindless airhead pop-culture distractions. Pam has her painting ambitions.
.. If you leave out the clear marked-for-Clueless characters, Dwight and Andy, you are left with the two most interesting characters in the show: the will-he-won’t-he Sociopath-in-the-making, Jim, and the strange Toby. Toby is a curious case — intellectually a Sociopath, but without the energy or ambition to be an active sociopath.
.. The Sociopaths know that the only way to make an organization capable of survival is to buffer the intense chemistry between the producer-Losers and the leader-Sociopaths with enough Clueless padding in the middle to mitigate the risks of business.
.. And here we find that Ryan is still not quite experienced enough as a sociopath. He foolishly goes the Enron route, attempting to cook the books to avoid failure, and is found out and arrested. A true master Sociopath like David Wallace would instead have spotted the impending failure, promoted a Michael to take over (who would obviously be so gratified at being given a new white-elephant title that he would not have seen disaster looming), and have him take the blame for the inevitable failure. Completely legal and efficient.
.. . Of the eight systemic metaphors in the book, the one that is most relevant here is the metaphor of an organization as a psychic prison. The image is derived from Plato’s allegory of the cave ..
.. it divides people into those who get how the world really works (the Sociopaths and the self-aware slacker Losers) and those who don’t (the over-performer Losers and the Clueless in the middle).
.. where Gervais has broken new ground, primarily because as an artist, he is interested in the subjective experience of being Clueless (most sitcoms are about Losers). For your everyday Sociopath, it is sufficient to label someone clueless and manipulate them. What Gervais managed to create is a very compelling portrait of the Clueless, a work of art with real business value.
.. Here is the ultimate explanation of Michael Scott’s (and David Brent’s) careers: they are put into a position of having to explain their own apparent, unexpected and unexamined success. It is easy to explain failure. Random success is harder. Remember, they are promoted primarily as passive pawns to either allow the Sociopaths to escape the risks of their actions, or to make way for the Sociopaths to move up faster. They are presented with an interesting bit of cognitive dissonance: being nominally given greater power, but in reality being safely shunted away from the pathways of power. They must choose to either construct false narratives or decline apparent opportunities.
.. The Clueless resolve this dissonance by choosing to believe in the reality of the organization. Not everybody is capable of this level of suspension of disbelief. Both Ricky Gervais (David Brent) and Steve Carrel (Michael Scott) play the brilliantly drawn characters perfectly. The most visible sign of their capacity for self-delusion is their complete inability to generate an original thought. They quote movie lines, lyrics and perform terrible impersonations (at one point Michael goes, “You talking to me?” a line he attributes, in a masterful display of confusion, to “Al Pacino, Raging Bull“). For much of what he needs to say, he gropes for empty business phrases, deploying them with staggering incompetence. When Michael talks, he is attempting, like a child, to copy the flawless Powertalk spoken by sociopaths like Jan and David Wallace. He is oblivious to the fact that the Sociopaths use Powertalk as a coded language with which to simultaneously sustain the (necessary) delusions of the Clueless and communicate with each other.
.. It is not just the Sociopaths who conspire to sustain Michael’s delusions. So do the checked-out Losers, sometimes out of kindness, and sometimes out of self-interest. In one particularly perfect summing up, Oscar describes the impending “Dundies” award ceremony (a veritable monument to the consensual enablement of Michael’s delusions) as “The Dundies are kind of like a kid’s birthday party. And you go, and there’s really nothing for you to do there, but the kid’s having a really good time, so you… You’re kind of there. That’s… That’s kind of what it’s like.”
.. But Michael’s grand narrative requires constant, exhausting work to keep up. He must amplify and rope in even the most minor piece of validation into the service of his script. When, in a moment of weakness, Jim shares a genuine confidence with him, Michael is so thrilled that he turns the moment into a deep imaginary friendship, practically becoming a stalker, even mimicking Jim’s hairstyle. At the other end, he over-represses even the slightest potential dent to his self-image.
.. This sort of ability to work hard to sustain the theater of his own delusions, half-aware that he is doing so, is what makes Michael a genuine candidate for promotion to the ranks of the Clueless. Dwight is interesting precisely because he lacks Michael’s capacity for this pathological meta-cognition, and the ability to offer semi-believable scripts that others can at least help bolster. Dwight is not talented enough at Cluelessness to ever be promoted.
On the White Supremacists, Neo-nazis, and their allies: First, I was impressed by their organization. They showed up in organized caravans of rented white vans, pick-up trucks, and other vehicles, and then quickly lined up with flags and started marching. I don’t know what app they were using, but it worked. (After the state of emergency was declared, the organization seemed less effective, with more confusion and milling around.) Second, they were young. The majority, it seemed to me, were in their twenties and thirties, mostly men, but a few women. I was told by one protestor that many of the older leaders were retired military.
.. They looked like they came expecting to fight, threaten, and intimidate. Some came in paramilitary garb, heavily armed. They carried an assortment of flags – mostly confederate, many representing their respective organizations, with a surprising number of Nazi flags. I’m 61, and before this weekend, I’ve never seen a single Nazi flag carried proudly in the United States. This weekend I saw many.
.. Their use of torches Friday night and slogans like “blood and soil” were clearly intended to evoke the KKK and Naziism. There was a good bit of “hail Trump” chanting with Nazi gestures.
.. he unabashed racism, the seething hatred, the chest-thumping hubris, the anti-Semitism, the misogyny, the shameless desire to harm their opponents, the gushing love for Trump, Putin, and Stalin, of all people … they speak for themselves. I was struck by how often the term “balls” comes up in their posts: these seem like insecure young men who are especially eager to prove their manhood, recalling election season bragging about “hand size.”
.. I would guess around a thousand white supremacists, and I would guess that the total number of anti-racism/anti-facism protesters was equal or greater.
.. I have participated in many protests and demonstrations over the years, but I have not seen the faith community come together in such a powerful and beautiful way as they did in Charlottesville. Brittany Caine-Conley and Seth Wispelwey deserve a lot of credit, as do the Congregate C-ville team they coordinated.
.. I met UCC, Episcopal, Methodist, Unitarian, Lutheran, Baptist (Alliance), Anglican, Presbyterian, and Jewish faith leaders, and the Quakers were out in large numbers, wearing bright yellow t-shirts. I met Catholic lay people, but I didn’t meet or see any Catholic priests. Two Episcopal bishops were present, and they had encouraged priests of their diocese to be involved. Along with those of us who participated in an organized way, it was clear that many ad-hoc groups of Christians and others came to protest, some with signs, some giving out water and snacks to anti-racist protestors.
Black, white, Latino, and Asian clergy worked and stood side by side; Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and others marched, prayed, and sang as allies.
.. The courage of the clergy present inspired me. In public gatherings and in private conversations before Saturday, participating clergy were warned that there was a high possibility of suffering bodily harm
.. A group of clergy (pictured below) walked arm-in-arm into the very center of the storm, so to speak, delaying entry to the park as they stood, sang, and kneeled. (Lisa Sharon Harper shares her reflections here.) This symbolic act took a great deal of courage, and many who did so were spat on, subjected to slurs and insults, and exposed to tear gas
.. I was deeply impressed with the Black Lives Matter participants. They went into the middle of the fray and stood strong and resilient against vicious attacks, insults, spitting, pepper spray, tear gas, and hurled objects. It’s deeply disgusting to see BLM be vilified on Fox News and other conservative outlets after watching them comport themselves with courage in the face of vile hatred this weekend.
.. Not all of the groups shared a commitment to nonviolent resistance in the tradition of Dr. King. I saw a few groups of protestors who, like the Nazis and white supremacists, came with hand-made shields and helmets, and I heard reports that some of these groups used pepper spray on the white supremacists, who were also using pepper spray, sticks, and fists on them.
.. In my fields of observation, they did not seem present to intervene quickly when skirmishes broke out. They seemed to stay back in the background. Perhaps this was intentional and strategic for reasons I don’t understand. Be that as it may, I couldn’t help but think about the contrast between the hands-off way heavily armed white supremacists were treated by police in Charlotte and how unarmed African Americans in other demonstrations have been beaten and arrested around the country over the years … or how unarmed Native Americans were treated at Black Rock a few months ago. That contrast is haunting, itself an expression of white privilege.
.. The young age of many of the white supremacists and Nazis suggests two things to me: first, that young white people are being radicalized in America today, radicalized to the point of using the ISIS tactic of killing people with a car; and second, that this problem isn’t going away fast
.. Just as male mammals seek to “mark territory,” these human groups seem determined to maintain their markers of white supremacy – namely, statues and flags associated with the era and culture of slavery.
.. White supremacist and Nazi dreams of apartheid must be replaced with a better dream
.. Our Christian leaders need to face the deep roots of white Christian supremacy that go back to 1452 and the Doctrine of Discovery, and before that, to the tragic deals made by 4th Century Bishops with Emperor Constantine, and before that, to the rise of Christian antisemitism mere decades after Jesus
Once at an Amazon offsite, managers had the reasonable-sounding suggestion that employees should be increasing communication with each other. To their surprise, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos stood up and announced, “No, communication is terrible!”
This stance explains his famous two-pizza team rule, that teams shouldn’t be larger than what two pizzas can feed. More communication isn’t necessarily the solution to communication problems — it’s how it is carried out. Compare the interactions at a small dinner — or pizza — party with a larger gathering like a wedding. As group size grows, you simply can’t have as meaningful of a conversation with every person, which is why people start clumping off into smaller clusters to chat.
- If you take a basic two-pizza team size of, say, 6. That’s 15 links between everyone.
- Double that group for a team of 12. That shoots up to 66 links.
- A small business of 50 people has an incredible 1225 links to manage.
.. Bezos’s two-pizza rule works out to at most 6 or 7 non-ravenous people. Teamwork expert Hackman pegs his magic number at 5