ThoughtWorks says it’s different. It’s my role to communicate this “difference” in very real terms to candidates who apply to join us. As recruiters it’s something we do everyday, what differentiates us? How are we different? What differences are more attractive that others?

It is the communication of difference that causes a problem and if a skilled recruiter can use the cultural differentiators that an organisation holds to be true about itself then these can be used to marry up to a candidate’s motivations for joining the organisation. e.g. at a basic level, their current company doesn’t offer them opportunities to travel – ThoughtWorks has many of it’s consultants working outside of their home offices and aids them in relocating for a short term, the life of a project or even emigrating for good. Obviously not all aspects are that binary, it can’t always be “current dissatisfaction + “different” cultural aspect = reason for joining”. If it were always the case then an organisation would have to be all things to all people all of the time, no company is a nirvana so there will always be pros and cons to joining an organisation. All this got me thinking about the difference of ThoughtWorks comparatively to other organisations and how I could illustrate this to candidates.

ThoughtWorks has already done a lot of thinking about how it wanted to be different from the day it was founded and still does. Roy’s Social Experiment offers a model for a company based on humanistic or anthropological lines concerned with the human behaviour, belief and value systems, sociological and cultural norms, that matched the type of company the founder wished to work in. This is obviously already a marked difference from the established organisational model which owes more to engineering showing an organisation as human constructs to be planned and controlled by rational, formal, structures and procedures. Though I feel the first model still holds true, ThoughtWorks is now a much larger place, over 1000 “ThoughtWorkers” across multiple continents in a myriad of countries. In growing globally “cultural norms” are blurred and belief and value systems are disparate and sometimes even conflicting. How then does a “social experiment” of an organisation maintain “cultural norms”. One answer is to regionalise and accept geographical/political boundaries as cultural way points – the other alternative is to create a culture of your own.

The third model I propose in communicating the “difference” of ThoughtWork’s organisational structure is organic evolution by natural selection. In the case of ThoughtWorks it is an evolution punctuated by the imposition of selected “organic replicators” – the employees are selected through an interview process. While organic evolution is blind or without conscious design (sorry to the Creationists) organisational evolution is a conscious program of selected memetic replication, shaped by internal forces managers, recruiters etc as well as external forces market pressures, competitors and technological advancement.

Biological metaphors have long been applied to the world of business e.g. “Survival of the Fittest” to illustrate competition, but more recently new thinking around “Chaos” and self organising systems offer a better model for an organisation than the “engineering” approach. Allowing us to realise that organisations like economies “evolve” as self organising systems. If we take this “genetic” approach I think it’s natural to take Roy’s Social Experiment as the memetic Big-Bang that went on to spark the evolution into the organisation as it exists today

ThoughtWorks as an organisation has, from Roy’s original primordial soup, developed surprisingly common sets of dominant motivators. People who don’t share them don’t join, or don’t get on, or are the first to leave on discovering a culture than can be alien to the “norms” that exist outside. In creating and managing a “learning organisation” we can escape the genetic dominance of the simplistic “survival of the fittest” and move towards an assumption that companies are creatures of their memes in the same way that organisms are creatures of their genes, that is vehicles which the memes or the genes, the replicators, create in order to perpetuate themselves.

For me this is what ThoughtWorks has become, a memetic snowball rolling down a hill, growing as those that share the similar ideals and values join and growing larger with each new hire. The fact that this evolution is constant can account for the “bursts” seen in nature exploiting environmental factors, this has an obvious parallel with the exploitation of new technological advances and the fostering and cultivation of those advances that will give the organisation an edge. New memes can propagate freely and become “viral” within the organisation, undergoing a micro-evolution of their own as they pass among individual ThoughtWorkers.

Working outside of rigid and constraining forms of a “normal” organisation allows for freedom of communication, a flat structure free from hierarchical constructs and allows the collaboration that fosters innovative thinking to thrive. That’s not to say that ThoughtWorks is a panacea for career ills, it is a company full of individuals and with that come individual opinions, ideas and all the flaws and foibles that make us human.

Thinking about the company I work for in this way enables me to better illustrate how “different” we are from other workplaces and allows me to assimilate all the tangents that a candidate might have questions about. Motivations for joining a company are diverse and it’s rare that I talk to two people who share exactly the same motivators, however the ever changing and constantly evolving elements that go to make up ThoughtWorks as a whole enable me to offer an area of interest to most who apply.

Vive La Différence!

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