Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Citizen, vassal, ally: Buttering the bread

Companies are small or large pools of influence that ooze over each other in cooperation or competition. Many swamp creatures inhabit these pools and the spaces between, yet some are oblivious to the relationship. I'm here to clear up your misunderstanding: life revolves around these ponds.

You're hired as a telecommuter or consultant. You pride yourself on your Lone Ranger status, free to set your own schedule, make your own rules. You're outside the establishment. You're also a vassal, with fewer rights and more demands from the city-state.
Corporate Ponds of Competition
You walk into Target. Walk into Trader Joe's. Walk into a boutique fashion shop. You passed their portals because you've absorbed some of their mission, you believe they have a valuable service to offer, and you partake of their offerings and ally yourself with these companies, among friends or against critics.

Citizens soak up all of the corporate culture. They're there every day, breathing in the messages about how to dress, how to play politics, how to speak, where corners may be cut and what intolerable failure looks like. Vassals struggle to absorb some of the culture, they know that survival depends on identifying with the paying client, but they can't quite get it without the total immersion citizens have. Allies see a very superficial aspect of the culture, and might respond to it temporarily - don't we all become more polite and helpful on entering Trader Joe's? Gearheads when visiting Best Buy?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Is that Mussolini I see in your company?

City-States have existed throughout millennia of history. The Greeks are the most well-known (Athens and all those philosophers are probably to blame), Italy and the (un)Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations are lesser known, and no-one seems to talk about the Canaanite city-states. The Biblical history gives 7 nations and 31 kings being conquered by the Israelites, partially verified by other records, and how would you fit 31 kingdoms into a land the size of ancient Israel? Those were city-states, I’ll bet, small in size and loosely confederated.

Leaving that one alone, what is a city-state exactly? The Encyclopedia Britannica defines the city-state as a “a political system consisting of an independent city having sovereignty over contiguous territory and serving as a centre and leader of political, economic, and cultural life.” (via Wikipedia.) Britishisms* are lovely as always, but that definition doesn’t fit the bill. Contiguous territory is a small matter, applicable to countries and continents too. A greater issue is that these cities were not always independent. The German city-states in particular were fiefdoms of noblemen/church officers ruled by one Emperor. The Jewish lobbyist-turned-court-member Joselman of Rosheim notes a conversation with Emperor Maximilian I, after having recited a blessing in his presence containing a reference to king of kings: "The Jew is right! I am a king of kings. The king of France is a king of donkeys, for his subjects bear everything he loads on them. My grandson, Charles of Spain, is a king of men, for the Spaniards obey him only in little things. The king of England rules over angels, for he does nothing unjust, and they obey him willingly and happily. We, however, rule over kings, for our German princes only obey us when it suits them, and therefore are kings themselves!" (As novelized from diaries by Marcus Lehmann.)
Buildings at Downtown - Hudson Riverside
I guess city-states are vague entities that have certain traits in common: people gather in one place under one governing agent, sharing certain rules and culture, yet may be loosely subject to a larger governing body. Does that remind you of anywhere you spend 9 to 5 at? A culture apart, yet subject to the federal and other governments.

Why is it important to realize that companies are kingdoms unto themselves? Because no matter how hard the government, federal down, tries, they will never truly know the goings-on in any company. They aren't fighting a losing battle, the battle is never joined. The employees and management that live the corporate ethos, political battles and day to day culture are the only ones that truly know what the company is like. The Feds dabble in OSHA, EEOC, FLSA, SEC, INS and myriad regulations and patrolling officers, and barely touch the surface of issues within. How many issues will employees swallow to remain employed? How many allowances does management make to avoid public nuisance? How many regulations are just downright useless and are rightfully ignored?

To top that off, government certainly does not impact corporate culture. Ultimately, neither do employees. Each Corporate City-State reflects the culture created by following the behavior of whoever runs the company hands-on. Private owner, CEO, Steve Jobs - it's not the board, not the mid-level people, it's the one on top that everyone instinctively copies - or they move on. (Steve Jobs deserves the creation of a new category. You know that.) This can go on and on, and it will. Just not in this post.

Topics like these can easily descend to snark and sarcasm. Companies have been called evil behemoths. I'll valiantly defend against such villainy, but it may slip through. I beg for pardon in advance. Companies are imperialist running dogs, provoking war and slaughter for profit? In reality, companies are just groups of people following the leader of the city-state, while trying not to run afoul of the larger federal nation-state. Oh, and the title? Mussolini negotiated the creation of the Vatican City-State in 1929. Thank you, Wikipedia. And it’s true, too.

There are valuable lessons to be gained by comparing company parts to city-state functions. How about we start with: The HR department of the Corporate City-State? Or Telecommuting and the Corporate City-State? Let me know.

*MS Word tried to change this to Briticisms, meaning “A word or figure of speech used in Britain exclusively or primarily.” What an awful, awful word. Speaking of awful words, here's an awfully-named world rulers conspiracy. Entertaining, in a classic bad tv kind of way.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why Is This Blog Different Than All Other Blogs?

It isn’t, really. At least not in the sense of “Why is this night different than all other nights?”, when this night we drink 4 cups of wine, eat flour-and-water Matzah, read a long story in Hebrew, eat a 4 course meal, sterilize the sinuses with horseradish root, and sit around a table till the wee hours of the morning talking metaphysics and freedom. To bed with us on all other nights.

I switched from the non-profit world to the corporate world a year ago. The peculiarities and peccadilloes of companies made for a fascinating journey, and although each company has a unique culture, there are ties that bind all companies, even if it is by being polar opposites of each other. Mostly an exploration of the corporate world that dominates most of the world we live in, meandering may happen as well.
I've played with the latest technology since 1985. Never an early adopter, more of an early awarer - eew. Early tester? Early tuner? Early player? Desktop publishing, graphic design, web design, web writing, and then the fancy word for "website updated often" which is blogging, followed by the explosion in people sharing personal information while stalkers nip, nibble, climb and eviscerate their heels. The simplest explanation for the personal info proliferation is: websites need to update more often with fresh information > personal information is easier and more readily interesting than investigative information > Let There Be Blogging!. Or maybe it was just the spillover from BBS to Internet. Who knows? I don't, but it's been a pleasure to watch and participate. The pleasure continues, although from a different point of view.

Continue to how the blog was put together in Nuts 'N' Bolts. Do not continue if technical stuff gives you nightmares.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Nuts 'N' Bolts

Lots of thought and work went into setting up the technical end of this blog, as with most blogs. Clicking through Google link after Google link, I wished each blog owner would explain how they set up the interesting features of their blog. The least I can do is explain what I discovered during my journey.

Choosing Blogger
I wanted a free blogging platform, hosted online. That left me choosing between the two most powerful in that area, WordPress and Blogger. Neither is perfect, both have features lacking in the other. does not allow editing themes, and this was a deal breaker for me. The major feature missing in Blogger is the ability to edit comments, and moderating comments without having to approve each comment. I want the comments to show up when posted, and have the liberty to delete or edit afterwards. Nothing is as frustrating as posting a comment to a blog, and not being able to see it right away. Disqus solved that problem, and held my hand with perfect instructions for changing from Blogger comments to Disqus comments. Blogger doesn't have an About page feature either, so I created my own, and after it had the URL name ...about.htm I changed the name to Why Is This Blog etc. and stuck a link on top of the sidebar.

Removing Navigation Bar
Most Blogger blogs have a thin blue bar on top that show Google and general stuff, and I didn't want that. Placing this line of code:
<![CDATA[/* By Aditya
----------------------------------------------- */
div.navbar {
right after this line of code in the Template, almost at the beginning:
removed the bar.

Twitter Feed
This was simple enough. An HTML/Javascript Page Element in the sidebar, cut and paste this code with the correct Twitter name. Voila!
<div id="twitter_div">
<ul id="twitter_update_list"></ul>
<a id="twitter-link" style="display:block;text-align:right;" href="">follow me on Twitter</a>

<script src="" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="" type="text/javascript">

Google Analytics
Google has all these awesome tools. Search is the powerhouse, but a check of tools I use includes Reader, Docs, Blogger, YouTube, Picasa and now Analytics. Tried iGoogle and Talk, didn't go anywhere. If I need a product that will give me reports on blog visitors, and Google makes a tool that is easily integrated, of course I'm going to use it.

ReTweet & Sharing button
I don't know why, but this was the biggest pain, a combination of finding the right script and then finding where to put it in the code. It's still a pain, because the new RSS image/button seems like it has to have the URL of each post pasted in, and I can't figure out how to have the image in the RSS feed only, so no RSS ReTweet button for me. Help, anyone?
I wanted the TweetMeme button in the top right corner of each post. In Edit HTML of Layout, click "expand widget code", then about halfway down find these lines:
<div class='post-header-line-1'/>
<div class='post-body entry-content'>
and paste this code in:
<div style='float:right; margin-left:14px;'>
<script type='text/javascript'>
tweetmeme_url = '<data:post.url/>';
tweetmeme_source = 'ymandel';
<script src='' type='text/javascript'/>
with the source as your Twitter name. Once that was done, the button code for the gazillions of sharing sites out there was added right after the TweetMeme script before the closing /div, so that both buttons appear together in the top right.

Font & Display
Do I want squinty readers trying to decipher ant-size screen writing? Or would I prefer readers sitting back comfortably and reading in leisure? I'll take the latter, thank you.
Instead of having to change the font of each post, I just changed the standard font for posts in the Layout to Trebuchet MS at 120% of whatever the browser is set to. Readers can still change the size, but the default is much larger than usual.
Most blogs are too narrow, especially for larger text size. The blog width was expanded in Layout as well, to 900px for the entire, 650 for posts and 250 for the sidebar. A white background is a must for text, so pictures and other stuff will have to spice it up.

RSS Tweaks
Working on this now.