There’s a mismatch between what corporate IT organizations are offering their employees and what the best employees (at least some of them) are looking for. To understand the disconnect you need to understand the two opposing worldviews that underlie the mismatch: the Cathedral worldview and the Bazaar worldview.
The Cathedral worldview places the company as the central component of a great career. In this worldview the company is like a Cathedral: a self contained unit that offers opportunity to those inside. In this worldview you start working at a good – often large – organization and over time you progress up the ladder of that organization. The organization offers you security (or at least perceived security) and the possibility of promotion every couple of years. In exchange, you give loyalty to the organization. Loyalty comes in the form of more or less following the lead of your manager. You work hard on the projects that are given to you by your manager. If you do a good job and gain exposure within the company you get promoted up the ladder. In this worldview leaving the company is a big deal: a traumatic event that speaks to the failure of either the employer or the employee or both.
The Bazaar worldview values the network as the central component of a great career. In this worldview the network is like a Bazaar or marketplace: people that connect and provide the most value to others in the market thrive. In this worldview it is critical to do work that gives you exposure and connection to people in your tribe or industry. One of the most critical things to people with the Bazaar worldview is that their work in known by people outside of their immediate workplace. They value accomplishments that they can tell other people about (or even better, that the market knows about BEFORE they tell anyone). People with this worldview value connections and a portfolio of work that resonates with others in the tribe.
The Cathedral and the Bazaar worldviews are fundamentally in opposition
I’d argue that the two worldviews can’t coexist within one organization. Your organization is either a Cathedral or a Bazaar. The Cathedral organizations value loyalty to the company and internal focus. The Bazaar organizations value transparency and connection outside the organization. It’s hard for me to envision an organization that can do both well. (I’d love to hear your thoughts on this).
How the Cathedral and the Bazaar worldviews view Google differently
Google is considered the greatest company to work for. But the Cathedral worldviews and the Bazaar worldview disagree about why. The Cathedral people say that Google is great to work for because of all the talent internal to Google. They have the most resources: big budgets, high salaries and phat perks. The Bazaar people believe Google is the best place to work because it offers the employee a platform. If you work on a project at Google people will hear about it. People in the tribe will know your name and be familiar with your work. For people with the Bazaar worldview, that has more long term currency than any salary or corporate perk.
There’s not many Bazaar workplaces in enterprise IT
I should say that neither one of these worldviews is necessarily right or wrong. As you probably know, I subscribe to the Bazaar worldview, but I know Cathedral people that have great careers that they love. It’s about preference, not about being right or wrong.
With that said, I think there are a lot of talented people in enterprise IT that believe in the Bazaar worldview and are looking for Bazaar workplaces. I believe the appeal of startup life or owning your own business, and the perceived “brain drain” from enterprise IT can be explained by this mismatch in worldviews. The perception by lots of people (including me) is that enterprise IT does not have enough Bazaar workplaces, the dominant organizational worldview in enterprise IT is the Cathedral. (I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, too).
There’s major opportunity for IT organizations that embrace the Bazaar worldview.
*Yup, I took this title from Eric S. Raymond’s famous book of the same name.