Big organisations are good, actually

I’ve been thinking about how weird working in a big organisation is and how nobody tells you that before you join. I worked in small companies before joining the public sector and continue to be shocked by how different doing what is effectively the same job can be in different environments.

There are so many things to learn: who to talk to to get a new laptop, how to make sense of the org chart, why everyone talks about governance and what it means, why everyone talks about risk and what it means, how to make something happen, why you sometimes have to write a paper and take it to a board, why we sort people according to their ‘influence’ and ‘interest’, why nobody finds that weird, why setting personal development objectives to review once a year isn’t an inherently bad thing, why a faceless organisation you're a part of having ‘values’ isn’t an inherently bad thing either, why people say things like ‘close of play’ and nobody finds that strange, why are incentives so important, why don't teams talk to each other, why is nothing written down, why is nobody ever explicit, ah I’m spiralling now I better stop.

These norms and processes are so important. It’s pretty quick to get a grasp on them, but another thing altogether to know what to do with them and how to use them to achieve the right outcomes. That bit takes forever, but at some point that’s what the job becomes.

I don’t like it and find it strangely dehumanising, but I don’t think you’re meant to like it. If you want humans to work together, you’re gonna need to put some rules in place. An organisation is a complex, living system and so the rules that govern it are not going to be too tidy either. Thinking through how the bit that you do within it helps to make something that you care about happen – happier citizens, nicer buildings, better typography, whatever – is crucial to your sanity.

What else have I been doing? Thinking about non-fungible tokens, of course! In short, a bunch of people whose work I like – artists and designers, rather than technologists – believe that creating the idea of ‘uniqueness’ and ‘digital scarcity’ for digital work can make life a lot easier for creators. It lets you make a song and use a non-fungible token to mark the file with the song as the original, much like you would with a painting. This unlocks all sorts of fun things and whole new economies. The bad bit is that it’s really bad for the planet. Aren’t we at a point where it’s insane to be working on new large-scale systems that make the climate emergency worse?

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