A friend posted a link to a New York Times article about start up culture, how increasingly folk in “unicorn” roles are disposable and how this fosters an unpleasant environment to work in. The article points to Netflix’s culture of “We’re a team, not a family.”, and how they’ve taken the analogy into performance culture of the company. In the author of the articles experience this translated into being measured against VORP; “value over replacement player”, a concept taken from the world of baseball.

I can see the analogy, and I can see how it would be attractive to people who wanted to drive that “ninja rockstar disruptor” culture in their company. But I’m not sure that that culture is one I’d want to work in, and I think I have another analogy that describes how the teams I’ve worked in today and in the past operate: Rock band!

Rock band!

Bands are creative, collaborative endeavors, much more like the coding teams I want to work on. While a sports team will use a star player as much as possible, as soon as that player has issues they’ll be spending more and more time on the bench, and possibly moving to other, less successful teams.

The bands that I’ve played in are closer to family. They have tensions, but they also have a common goal (finish a song, play a kick arse show, release an amazing album) and generally work towards it as best as the members can. They practice together, and build up trust and ways of communicating and interacting such that the drummer knows when to ramp up without the guitarist having to tell them. I think the great bands are “more than the sum of their parts”, where the chemistry between the members makes for something magical that, on paper, they shouldn’t be able to produce.

There’s also a wider team of people outside the band that have an impact (positive or negative) on the output of the band. The producer who makes the album sound to harsh or too polished, the label that gives them space or hounds them for a release, the venue sound guy who takes the time to sound check properly or just calls it in.

That doesn’t mean bands always produce perfect results; there’s always the “difficult second album”, the contractually required release that no one wants to do or the “best of” album with limited to no artistic merit, the gig that sucks. But bands do make come back albums (and sometimes those come backs are the best in their careers) and do reunion tours that reach new audiences.

I acknowledge that I’m biased, but I do think making music with others is closer to the process of developing software than playing a game of baseball.