The Tao of Linden

The original ‘Tao of Linden’, was a written capture of our work practice for the first few years of Linden Lab, circa 2006, with special writing credits to Ginsu Yoon, if I remember correctly.  On looking back, I’m more convinced now than ever that these simple principles are memorable, effective,  and increasingly optimal for the project teams of today.  The full text from my 2006 blog post:

Linden Lab has a different and better way of doing work. It relies on the idea that if the level of transparency (everyone can see what everyone else is doing) can be made high enough, you can stop managing people by explicit authority or delegation. Instead of being told what to do, you choose your own work by listening to your peers, making good strategic judgements, taking risks, and surfing a huge amount of information.

As one of a very few pioneers in doing things this way, there is still a lot to learn. We make mistakes. But the things we have gotten right are impressive: Linden Lab has, in 6 years, had almost zero employee turnover, and our productivity, in comparison to other similar sized teams, is off the charts.

Here is the first page of our internal handbook, designed to serve as an introduction to new team members:

TAO OF LINDEN LAB

Vision

To expand the human experience by building an online world allowing
people to interact, communicate, and collaborate in a revolutionary way.

Company Principles

Work together! The problems we have faced and will face in
creating Second Life are generally larger than one person can solve,
and solving them is one of the defensible strengths we have as a
company. We will succeed only if we collaborate with each other
extensively and well. This means helping others reach their goals,
joining teams, and being easy to work with.

Choose your Own Work. Given how dynamic the
challenges are we face, and the opportunity for increased job
satisfaction and productivity, Linden Lab places a high premium on
choosing your own work, rather than being told by anyone what to do. By
choosing your own work, you are more likely to have more fun at work
and add more value to Second Life. By setting your own goals, you are
more likely to meet them. When you commit to a team project, be
prepared to be directed by the team lead, but when deciding what
project you will take on next, rely first on your own best intuition
and the counsel of peers.

Be Transparent and Open There are many ways to
emphasize responsibility, accountability, communication and trust. We
believe that the one key principle that best supports all of these
values is transparency. As much as possible, tell everyone what you are
doing. This transparency makes us responsible to our peers, makes us
accountable to our own statements, and replaces the need for management
with individual responsibility. Over time, it creates and reinforces
trust. Be willing to share ideas before you feel they are ‘baked’.
Report on your own progress frequently and to everyone.

Make Weekly Progress We believe that every person
should make specific, visible individual contributions that moves the
company forward every week. Projects must be broken down into
measurable tasks so that making weekly progress is possible. This is a
principle that almost no one believes is true when they first hear it,
yet everyone who keeps to this principle over the course of several
months is stunned by the amount of progress made during that time. Set
weekly goals and report progress to everyone.

No Politics! Never act to advance your own interests
at the expense of the interests of the company. This is the one
principle, outside of violations of law, for which violation will
likely result in immediate termination.

Might Makes Right Just kidding – wanted to make sure
you’re still paying attention. Lots of things could be said here: Have
a sense of humor. Have a sense of humility. Have fun. Call out
inconsistency in principles when you see it. Don’t let a staid form and
function become routine and boilerplate. Which leads to our last
principle . . .

Do It With Style It’s not enough that we want to
change the world. It’s not enough that our product is incredibly
complex and our vision is vast and shifting. We’re not just going to
win, we’re going to do it with style. That means a lot of different
things, and a lot of what it means can’t be captured in a handbook.
Find out by talking to your colleagues, by living the principles above,
by exploring Second Life.

Welcome to Linden Lab.

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10 Comments

  1. ldinstl

     /  June 21, 2012

    I love this Philip, always have. But where is the post coming from at this particular moment in time? What are your thoughts on the future of SL and how this applies?

    Chimera Cosmos

  2. What happened to “Walk in our residents’ shoes”?

  3. I miss the old Linden Lab Philip. We all do….

  4. I always thought the ”no politics” clause was the most problematic, essentially because it works similarly to other ”zero tolerance” ideas by sweeping the problem away instead of addressing it. Probably the thought was that transparency would ”fix” it, but even if transparency exposes what people do, there is no obligation to explain why, so the law of first arrival reigned supreme, as anyone questioning must surely be playing politics.

  5. I find myself wanting to talk about the Tao over whiskeys. Maybe someday that’ll happen.

  6. I agree with CG that the “no politics” thing was problematic. Cognitive dissonance led us to want to insist that there wasn’t any politics when, of course, there was.

    Overall, though, a great idea. The whole notion of transparency and of trusting your employees and each other is extremely radical. On the face of it, no, but the way most organizations are put together they effectively express values such as “everybody must be monitored at all times” (look at how big a business employee monitoring software and hardware is!) and “all information on a strictly need-to-know basis”. The Tao of Linden was very liberating.

    Over time — as we approached the M years, and definitely once we were in the M years– more and more if it became like the “no politics” clause. That is, what we claimed to be, rather than what we really were.

  7. SarahD

     /  June 24, 2012

    I think the Tao held admirable aspirations. When I’m working in a place without them, I feel the chafing. And when it chafes too much, I ask for more power. When my coworkers recognize my value, I get that power. When they don’t, I leave.

    And ”Do It With Style” hit me at a conference and has guided most of my professional interactions since. Definitely a wonderful guiding principle for me. Yes, choose your own work and all, but do it with some style.

  1. loving and leaving linden lab « ginsudo
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