Managing Humans

I have completed the first part of Managing Humans by Michael Lopp. I think the most interesting chapter in the book is titled “Titles are Toxic”. Lopp suggests titles are toxic because they attempt to place value on humans who are beautiful snowflakes. He thinks titles are as useless as business cards and resumes. And I tend to agree with his sentiment.

A general problem I see in organizations is that people keep their role if they are “good enough”. I haven’t seen a mechanism whereby the meritocratic competence hierarchy evolves and emerges over time through some well defined process. Within the “Titles are Toxic” chapter Lopp mentions the idea of open badges as a possible solution to measuring the value of humans. But I think Lopp mentions a relevant contradictory idea in a previous chapter titled “A Different Kind of DNA”. Note that Lopp contradicts himself a couple of times.

Lopp mentions the idea of DNA (design ‘n’ architecture) meetings which serve as a place where engineers make core technical decisions. It seems that the DNA meeting can be a place where everyone is invited to attend at least once. But if you don’t offer any value in the meeting then you don’t get invited back. Invite everyone to the important meetings and let them know their presence is optional. But keep a list of people who attended the meeting and offered nothing of value. Those people don’t get invited back to that kind of meeting. I would also add that these meetings should be recorded and shared so that everyone has the chance to offer value in an asynchronous way. You may record a meeting, hire someone a year later, and then they are able to listen to that meeting and shine light on a solution to a problem which nobody else could see. Or perhaps someone who was removed from the invite list listens to the recordings and adds value asynchronously.

The challenge with meritocracy is the act of judging humans and the value they add. It may seem obvious that the person who attends the DNA meeting and does not speak is not adding value and should not be invited back to the meeting. And I think this judgement is good if you offer everyone access to good recordings and a place to respond asynchronously. The value a person brings becomes harder to judge as soon as a person starts participating. Who is able to determine the objective value of the information or ideas which are shared by a person? It is impossible to test out everyone’s ideas to see which idea is best. And it is sometimes impossible to arrive at a consensus through reason within a limited timeframe.

Lopp’s second chapter is titled “Managers Are Not Evil”. And he mentions that if your boss doesn’t realize that his success is your success, then your boss may be evil. I understand the sentiment that people are evil when they sacrifice others for their own benefit. But when the organization commits itself to meritocracy it must be willing to part ways with anyone in that organization. The boss must be actively seeking his own replacement. A person who values the kind of loyalty which lifts up people by proximity (or anything other than merit) is in opposition to a culture of meritocracy. I think this is Lopp’s biggest mistake (many people share versions of his mistaken belief) which contributes to the most important problem in our world.

Regarding the idea of open badges, a very important badge is the “prophet badge”. Who is the person who is able to take in all the information and make accurate predictions most often? These are the people who should have their voices heard when there is not consensus and time is limited. There needs to be a process which allows people to make predictions such that their prediction powers are measurable and known so that the process weighs these people’s voices more heavily than other people’s voices.

comments powered by Disqus