None of our business?

This is supposed to be a serious sort of post – although i hope that won’t put you off reading it. There’s also a video that i’d really like you to watch, before you read on, and i suppose by asking you to do that there’s a bit of a risk that: a) you might be completely put off by the subject matter and not bother reading what i have to say; b) get bored and/or fall asleep; c) think that this is completely irrelevant to you and go away, or; d) be horrified that the video is 48 minutes long, give it a try and give up because the first 3 minutes of audio are distorted, and therefore don’t watch the video at all.

That’s a risk, i grant you, but i think risks are sometimes worth taking. i also think that the subject,  the content of the video and the implications are not only fascinating, but relevant to us all, and that every resident, developer, marketer, investor and participant in sl should have a vested interest in it. Yikes!.. Told you i was being serious!

So, let’s move on. Here’s the video – it’s Philip Rosedale’s talk at Big Omaha 2012, in which he frequently references sl, and before you start protesting that Philip isn’t some sort of god and that he’s irrelevant to present day Linden Lab, or that you’re not a CEO in a Silicon Valley company, nor are you a developer, and you’re so tech-unsavvy that you’ve never come to the mindblowing recognition that if you strip the vowells from Hotmail you end up with HTML, (or unreadable e-mails – depending how you read that last bit!); but just remember what i said about vested interests above. Besides, i know that at least some of you fit into those categories and, if you haven’t seen this yet, you really should!

Make a large coffee, sit back, and come back to me in 48 minutes; i’ll be waiting for you. Here’s Philip…

Bet you think you have an idea about what i’m going to say about it, don’t you? Well, you’re probably wrong because, as i tend to do, i found myself ‘reading between the lines’ and coming to my own conclusions, which although intrinsically linked to what Philip was saying  are actually far more to do with what he didn’t explicitly say – part of that 85% of non-verbal communication that he mentioned; although, in this case, nothing at all to do with body language. The message i received from Philip’s talk relates to his approach to business and people, which differs fundamentally from most models that we are accustomed to.

There are a number of ‘tells’ i spotted, through which Philip unconsciously reveals how he makes those connections: perhaps the most significant of which is the way in which he consistently talks about the business he created as ‘Second Life’ and, crucially, not as ‘Linden Lab’. That’s a very important distinction because it demonstrates that at the most fundamental level, Philip sees his creation from the point of view of the participant – resident, citizen, user, player… whatever you want to call it – and therefore from a community, virtual face-to-face/touchy-feely, perspective. In other words, for Philip, the product (sl), is the company.

It’s no surprise then, that Philip’s approach to running Linden Lab – and latterly, his approach to building Coffee and Power – rely heavily on that same community perspective. His deconstruction of hierarchical management and silo working; his commitment to transparent working practices and accountability; the Love Machine; the Tao of Linden – they all speak to his belief that it is the individual’s contribution that counts towards the end result of the whole and that the best way to facilitate that individual’s productivity is to build a sense of community and a very real feeling of interpersonal interaction. Some may be shocked at Philip’s suggestion that – in these days of remote working and distance networking – we should be moving back towards the shared office model, yet in terms of community it makes absolute sense. Those of us who’ve experienced the joys of office working may disagree; but how many of us have worked in the kind of offices he’s advocating?

Personally, i can attest to the extraordinary power that a sense of community can exert over an individual’s productivity: Whilst this blog was originally intended to be a ‘personal’ thing, where i wrote for personal pleasure and as a means of self-expression, over time, as a community has established around it, i can identify some pretty important changes. As i write these posts, i’m incredibly aware of the people who will be reading them – that inspires me, it helps me to focus, it stretches me and i find, more and more frequently, that i’m not only writing for myself, but for others too. That in turn drives up my standards and productivity and, what’s more, it happens in a way that is both enjoyable and worthwhile. The love machine has its influence here too – every hit that this blog gets and every comment it receives are a positive and reinforcing factor that makes me want to do even more!

Chances are that if you’ve ever done anything ‘productive’ in or around sl, you’ve found the same to be true, whether building, content creation and marketing, hosting or being involved in an event – it is not so much the reward that makes it worthwhile doing, but the human contact and interaction: apparently not the oxymoron that logic might dictate within the virtual environment!

So – the virtual model of community as a driver of productivity is equally valid within the real world; a world in which the concept of ‘global community’ appears to have overtaken the appreciation of what constitutes the ‘actual’ community – one has to question the consequences of a society where we can be close friends with people from the opposite side of the world, yet have never spoken to the person who lives next door, (guilty, as charged!).

There’s still a lot more to say – so i’ll be re-visiting the implications of the above for companies like Linden Lab, tomorrow – however there is one more point i’d like to consider before winding up.

In the video, Philip professes to be an ‘unwilling extrovert’ and speaks about the power of sl as an enabler for those who struggle with social skills. This too, is something i can readily relate to – i’m neither willing, nor am i an extrovert when i don’t have the protective blanket of sl to gather around me – sometimes i still get surprised to find myself frequenting such an interactive social network, which then inspires me to expose myself even more to my peers through this blog! i can’t help thinking that this is something strongly connected with the participative and practical nature of sl, where unlike other gaming type environments, we are compelled to build our own world. It’s no surprise really to learn that the young Mr Rosedale took to sawing holes in his bedroom ceiling to create his Star Trek style door, rather than just think about doing it, as most people would do – ultimately, this is reflected in sl: if we want something to happen, then it’s down to us to make it happen.

Until hearing this talk, i’d always seen Philip as the physicist, turned computer programmer, turned entrepreneur but i was wrong. Philip is actually a hands-on, suck-it-and-see, risk-taking experimenter. He talks about his first attempts at programming – writing code all day, only to switch off the computer and lose the lot at the end of it – that’s not the characteristics of a programmer or developer – for Philip, the joy lies in the doing and the experimentation, not necessarily in the end result. Perhaps that’s why he’s been able to move on from sl in a way that many of us would consider a little peculiar – to walk away from your successful creation is not something that we could all do without a qualm. It would be interesting to ask Philip how he would define a ‘successful’ company because i’ve a sneaky suspicion that he doesn’t really know… traditional definitions of success are not how he measures things; innovation, exploration and taking risks are what rocks his boat. Again, this type of thinking is something that any company, including the Lab, needs to look at very carefully.

Far too much already for today! If you can stick it, i’ll finish off tomorrow – i’m sure you’ll be back!

s. x

Did you ever stop to think about the world as a whole? 
Do you ever think about your life beyond your front door?
Secret Affair – One Day In Your Life

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This entry was posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL, Techietalk. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to None of our business?

  1. Very interesting, Serenity. I’ll be back for the rest of the post.

    • Thanks Lizzie – i think there’s often danger that residents make snap judgements about the business of sl and there’s no harm in probing a little bit deeper on occasion!

      s. x

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