37signals is running some experiments with the goal of making people happy in the workplace. So far they have implemented shorter work weeks, funding people’s passions, and discretionary spending accounts. The funding people’s passions idea reminds me of my time as an internet developer at Nortel in the mid-90s. We set up informal lunch-time sessions where each of us would take turns teaching others something we knew. I learned more in my time there, because of that, than I have in any other work environment. Of course, our sessions were spontaneous and definitely not institutional. They were the result of a great boss and motivated people. The idea that this sort of innovation exists institutionally speaks strongly for the culture 37signals is creating and perhaps hints at why some companies survived the initial internet bubble and others didn’t.
Update: This just in:
I am perfectly willing to acknowledge that not all of us excel at the same things, but I’m coming to believe more and more firmly that this whole “typical person” entity is a myth. I’ve never met a typical person. There are only people who are passionate about what they do, and people who aren’t. When the latter become the former, they become “atypical”, because suddenly they are self-motivated, insightful, excited, optimistic, and happy.