Saturday, August 22, 2015

Surprise: Amazon.com is a normal corporate workplace



This CNN depiction of Amazon.com decries the “Darwinism” practiced at the online retailer.

“Darwinism” is a nasty word that is emotionally laden. But there is an element of truth here.

Read the hyperlinked article. Then talk to anyone who has worked for a big law firm, or any Fortune 500 company. These non-Amazon cubicle veterans will relate similar tales of woe. Why? Because all large corporate employers practice “purposeful Darwinism” in one form or another.

And this is, more or less, exactly what the leading lights of the business community advocate. If you’ve read Jim Collins’s 2001 business classic Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't, you’ll come across that now famous passage about the importance of “getting the right people on the bus”—and, as a corollary, jettisoning the ones who aren’t a good fit.

If that isn’t Darwinism, then what is?

This is the reality: Working for a large corporate requires conformity to organizational standards.

In some cases, the discomfort of conformity is offset by commensurate or greater rewards. In other cases, it simply isn’t. In the latter situation, most people vote with their feet and seek employment elsewhere. 

Remember, the cartoon series Dilbert strikes a chord with readers for a reason. Working for a large corporation isn’t necessarily supposed to be fun or emotionally empowering. (I did the corporate thing for twenty years; and can attest that most of the time, it isn’t much fun at all: but having a regular salary, a dental plan, and a 401K is nice.)

For some reason, there is a contingent of folks out there who expect Amazon to be a “special” corporate workplace, because it sells books, or perhaps because it is a “dotcom”.

It is worth remembering that most retail booksellers are performing poorly nowadays, and the notion that dotcoms are “special” was destroyed in the dotcom crash of fifteen years ago.

Amazon is not an especially cruel workplace. It is a normal one. That is why it thrives in a marketplace where other booksellers and dotcoms struggle and perish.

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