On Organizations and French Fries


I finally just finished reading Scott Berkun’s wonderful book “The Year Without Pants:  WordPress.com and the Future of Work.”  I’ve been reading it for a while, and even re-reading some parts.

At my library, we are planning on changing and consolidating some service points over the next few years, which has some folks concerned over the future of their work.  Berkun has a nice analogy of organizations, rules, and side dishes that I think applies to almost any organization undergoing significant change.  He writes:

Organizations become bureaucratic as soon as people define their job around a particular rule, or feature, rather than a goal. For example, if you tell me my job is to cook the French fries, I will resist anything that threatens the existence of French fries, since when they go away, so does my job. But if you tell me my job is to make side dishes for customers, I’ll be open to changing from fries to onion rings or other side dishes, even ones we’ve yet to invent, since my identity isn’t tied to a particular side dish but instead to the role side dishes play.  pp. 187-188.

Image hat tip: Scary Fry Guy by fschroiff, on Flickr

8 thoughts on “On Organizations and French Fries

  1. I’ve never tried framing change in this manner, which may make it more accessible for individuals who don’t always see (or want to see) the bigger picture. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Our Research, Outreach, & Instruction department has a veteran librarian (now in phased retirement) who seems to define her job as “doing the things I’m most comfortable with”, which happen to be title-by-title book selection and reference desk staffing. So that’s a goal too, I guess, although not necessarily aligned with the department’s goals.

  3. Change is hard. Doubly hard for people who feel vulnerable. If I’m afraid of losing my job, or career, I’ll resist all sorts of good ideas. A wise boss hires people who aren’t just fry makers but are side-dish makers (to stretch the metaphor even further).

    Thanks for mentioning the book. You might enjoy this summary of the toughest questions I’ve been asked about it: http://scottberkun.com/2014/faq-about-the-year-without-pants-with-satisfying-answers/

    1. Wow, Scott, thanks so much for stopping by and posting a comment! Very, very cool. I had seen the FAQ, and found it very useful. I’m pleased you are keeping it up to date. As a WordPress user since 2003, I’ve been a fanboy for a long time, and I loved your insight into the company. Thanks again for stopping by!

      1. You have good taste in your interests as WordPress and Automattic are fascinating organizations for many reasons.

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