factoreality: efficient, open & competitive

I have arrived in factoreality, and as expected, the dominating force at The Factory is its quest for efficiency and self-improvement. Obliged to an aesthetics of efficiency, all interactions are reduced to their bare essence, stripping away whatever is deemed superfluous. Efficiency is treated as a root cause which is sufficient to justify most actions. The interesting question along these lines is to ask for the measure which separates meaningful time from overheads: We make interactions simpler and quicker, subjecting more and more domains to automatization. But we do not answer the question why we do so: When we optimize a process, we implicitly say that this process is unworthy our timeĀ — in optimizing the search for a person or a document, we say that this search is unworthy our time, and in eliminating the need to read a map, we expose this skill as unworthy our efforts. Everything we want to optimize is keeping us from what we truly wish to do; otherwise there would be no need to optimize. In this sense, The Factory seems to define itself negatively, as it does not state what it is optimizing for: Its goal is a means without an end, underlying The Factory as blank space.

Maybe this undefinedness is precisely what makes this place so attractive to work in. The Factory is more about the how than the what, in being an attitude that is pervasive in all its services and products and ramifications. This focus on the approach to work connects my factoreality to Morris’s and Warhol’s Factory: Morris wanted to free the common man from industrialization and division of labor, while Warhol embraced mass production, even saying we should all become machines. As opposing as they were, they both were driven by a respective vision on how we should work creatively. Beyond their differences, they agreed that creativity requires an open environment with leeway for learning and experimentation, just as my factoreality is — aside its quest for effectiveness — most distinguished by its openness: all resources are open and readily accessible to all members of The Factory. We work in open office spaces, access most Factory code openly, and collaborate freely in open teams with loose and ad-hoc formed structures. Remarkably, our tasks are not structured in much detail but are open to initiative, taking full advantage of the open environment where everybody can pick some bits and pieces of work, finding teammates along the way, rearranging the office space accordingly, and having access to all the other great work done here. This openness is not only enabling a continuous reorganization but is also dependent on this constant change inasmuch as nobody can build persistent structures that would set an end to the openness of The Factory.

The open culture fosters a lot of different approaches and ideas that need to be sorted out. Therefore, and as The Factory has established itself in a competitive environment, it adopted an attitude that infuses internal and external relationships with a competitive spirit. Given the belief in efficiency, a better idea should always win, regardless of the originator and the circumstances, requiring in turn an open environment to allow ideas to evolve until their potential becomes visible. Another implication of this culture is its strict non-discrimination policy, permitting people of any kind to take pride in their diversity, as everybody should not only have a fair opportunity but enrich the place by being different. The entailed political correctness might be easily ridiculed, but it ensures that nobody is singled out or attacked for personal reasons. This societal openness goes hand in hand with an organization that is quite flat in the sense that most people collaborate on more or less equal terms, give or take some experience or talent. A deeper hierarchy would require stronger structures which would harm the openness and dynamics of The Factory. On the other hand, once the hierarchy sets in, it is extremely steep, putting an enormous value on the core team. Given the high turn over of people who come in, learn, and leave again, this core is essential to maintain the knowledge and talent necessary for keeping The Factory culture alive.

So I crashed into a factoreality that renders the world as an engineering problem which can be solved by a meritocratic elite building on efficiency and openness, leading to a free circulation and competition of ideas. So far so good: The place is fun. I enjoy the pride my colleagues take in their work, the quality of the results, their resourceful helpfulness, and the leeway I have to determine my own work. The decision to join was a good one, and living in London is a much appreciated improvement over Oxford’s narrow way of life. However, during the first weeks, The Factory has provided me with an environment that has covered most of my needs in establishing a sturdy frame to experiment (and live) within, such that I disappeared mostly in the giant bubble of The Factory.

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