Interesting companies / ways of working

A friend is working with a charity, doing a little consultancy, to help them explore ways of working more efficiently, or less bureaucratically, or just differently. Betterly. It’s a familiar story, especially with charities, and while I feel like I’ve pointed people to ‘cool’ companies in the past, and that I know a little bit about what it takes to innovate and do things differently, successfully, in writing my email to her, I began to wonder if there’s actually any value in what I’m saying.

To be clear, I’m just looking to give examples of different ways of working that she can use to confidently inspire a charity. But in writing to someone outside of my familiar digital/design sector about companies that are familiar to me, and retelling a few stories that I feel I know well, I’ve become aware of possible gospel and rumour that I can’t truly and confidently source. 

In short, I wrote this email in what I thought was an accessible and inspiring way as possible, but after sending feared that it was as valid and accurate as fake news or an uninformed opinion piece. 

With fear of publicly revealing holes in my knowledge and my stupid Man Facts, I’m sharing the email here with expectation of being corrected. In fact, perhaps it’s appropriate to preface a disclaimer that should feature on all news and articles: 

The following is pretty much just opinion. Received and whispered stories, links to companies I’ve never worked with, featuring few people I even know, and even those I do, I could be misquoting. So, correct me where you can dear reader. See your social responsibility to correct what you know to be wrong, and not just read on with expectation of accuracy elsewhere. 

[Remember, this was an email to a friend that got a little distracted…]



Been trying to think more about companies like we talked about. ‘Cool’ in a sense, but basically innovative and open to testing and trying alternate operating methods.

Not many more have come to mind I’m afraid, but here are the ones I can remember and I think are of note.

The obvious one perhaps is from Google / Alphabet (as their parent company us now called). They’re set up to innovate and take moon shots. People are rewarded if their moon shot fails. Nothing new is going to be found in conventional ways, so taking moon shots is the only way, which will often mean learning what doesn’t work. That’s as valuable lesson as any other (goes the ethos).

In this sense I’m reminded of the original version of this in the form of Bell Labs which Bell set up to innovate and try things (same ethos). Later Xerox copied the format and achieved great developments, but a little too late after resting on photocopier sales for too long while the home computer revolution happened around them.

A modern version of labs comes from who I mentioned. Their makes great work along side the more commercial company. A safe place to take risks, but the company on whole has many innovative methods also.

This is reminding me of the book Adapt in which the author talks clearly about the benefit of these labs or skunkworks and how they helped to win the war for us! 

Much of this method and these companies follow the idea of iterative development. Like the ‘failing fast idea’ of Facebook. In this respect they’ll talk a lot about Agile with a capital A, but in a lowercase sense it basically means not following a waterfall method which takes too long, allows mistakes to fester and actively prevents learning, discovery and chances to make corrections along the way.

In the face of waterfall methods costing the UK Government so much money in the mid 2000s – as contractors learned how to milk the bureaucracy and charge millions for simple websites that didn’t even work very well – Martha Lane Fox wrote a revolutionary repot which resulted in the formation of Government Digital Services (GDS).

GDS is pretty awesome in the way it works and for the money it’s save. I wrote a little about the way they work a while back and the methods and successes they achieved.

The core team that set that up has now moved on to help at the Co-op where once again they are looking to transform a company from within, putting ‘users’ (customers) first.

Talking of Facebook, I met an old colleague there recently and he told me their hierarchy is very flat and that it makes working there better than anywhere else he’s worked. No strategy director, or senior designer, or principle marketing person, or senior exec, or anyone else is solely in charge of each project. All disciplines have a manager and all managers work together, and everyone takes note of what everyone else says. They are in charge of their product and have 6 monthly plans that they work toward in an agile manner. They they put it in front of Mark and have to justify what’s happened. If it fails, for a good reason, then OK, ‘what can we do to learn from that?’ If not, then he want’s to know what they’re planning next. They, meaning the whole team.

Last one I remembered is where an old friend works:, which might look boring if you’re not a gamer, but a while back their employee handbook was talked about as a funny and irreverent artefact, but when talking to my friend, he confirmed that it’s for real. Valve are very very flat and everyone innovates and takes responsibility. Here’s the handbook. Have a read and think that this is for real, in a company that turns over billions!

In fact, I can’t think of a modern company in any new market that get’s away with old business methods and practices. From an evolutionary point of view, with a long view, the early 2000′s are the time to change or risk dying out.

OK, went a bit off topic there!

Hope there are some useful links or examples in there…