Jonathan Field - Maker of Random Stuff

Zappos Culture

Every year for the past several years, Zappos has printed up a “culture” book, which they then distribute to employees, partners, and the odd customer. The book is a collection of writings on Zappos culture from each person in the company. The essays range from obvious fluff to clever humor to insightful ponderings, and I think it’s a great idea.

Last year, (that’s 2006 for the time travelers among you), I worked a full year at Zappos, and like everyone else I wrote and submitted a 2006 culture essay at the end of December. I left March 2007 before the culture book was printed, however, and thus my culture essay was not included. Though it’s no great loss to the world, I thought I would include it below because I just read it all these months later and I think it still speaks for me. Which is generally an accomplishment for my caught-in-the-moment writing. Anyways, here it is…

This year I had cause to reflect on culture from a different perspective,
because this year I decided I’d be leaving Zappos.

Culture is a funny thing — it arises naturally out of the interplay between a
specific group of people, without any planning. If it is a successful,
desirable culture then it attracts more people and necessarily the culture
changes as they come. As it changes, people start wondering how to keep it the
same, and so culture enters a second phase where we try to understand it and
guide it intentionally.

It’s inevitable that something is lost in that transition, but it’s also
inevitable that we have to make that transition at some point, lest we stagnate
and lose our culture anyways. So we might as well do our best to hold on to
what works as we grow. Having watched six and a half years of growth and
adaptation, I think we’ve done a remarkable job of it. It’s not exactly the
same thing it was, but it is still a good thing. Warm, funny, hopeful…
idealistic even, but practical, too.

But even now, our cultural success is not simply a result of the culture
documents and planning, as defined by the core values and such. Our true
culture still sources from the natural interplay of people. And even as we
grow to a thousand employees and beyond, our efforts at directing culture have
only a tiny impact compared to the quality of the people that we hire, and the
ongoing efforts of everyone to make this a great place to work. Generally,
this is done by following the golden rule.

The most positive thing I can say about Zappos is this: as I move on I have no
interest in getting into another full-time technology position at an internet
company. Because I can’t imagine it being any better than Zappos. If I was
still interested in doing that kind of work, I’d just stay here.

So why leave? I’m hoping to get back to being a starving artist; those were
good times too.

Keep it real. Keep in touch.

Love and kisses, Jfield.

Well that was it: my hitherto unspoken goodbye to the fine people at Zappos. Yeah, I do miss the good people and good times. But I’ve also recaptured some degree of free creative thinking that was lost in all the urgency of work. Whether I can hold on to that and make good on it is yet to be seen.

Life is too slow and too short for my tastes. But it’s damn good anyways.

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