In nearly every conference room in nearly every Gore location, there is a large “culture poster” hanging on the wall. The poster lays out the fundamental beliefs, guiding principles, key values and practices of the Gore culture. Its prominence and ubiquity speaks to the importance that Gore Associates place on their culture, and their understanding that the culture is to be lived daily, and used—particularly in decision-making situations.
On the poster is a list of “early influences”—experiences that shaped the thinking that Bill and Vieve brought to the founding of the Enterprise, or ideas that helped them articulate some fundamental assumptions about people and how they work together. Two of the early influences were Douglas McGregor and Abraham Maslow. It is unlikely that Bill Gore was exposed to these authors before he founded the Enterprise in 1958. McGregor’s book, The Human Side of Enterprise, was published in 1960, several years after Gore & Associates was founded. And it is likely that Bill came to know Maslow’s work as it was referenced by McGregor. Most of us at Gore link McGregor with “Theory X and Theory Y,” and we link Maslow with his “hierarchy of needs” that span the gamut from basic needs for survival, safety, and security to “higher level needs” of belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization.
Years ago, I read something about a company that was trying to implement a Theory Y approach to management, and which was ultimately unsuccessful. Recently, I tried to track down the details on the story, and found that it was Maslow (not McGregor), who spent a summer as a kind of “scholar in residence” at a company called Non Linear Systems where the company’s founder was trying to implement a Theory Y approach to management. As it turned out, Theory Y did not in itself make for success, and Non Linear Systems floundered.
But what was especially interesting to me as I dug deeper into the story was that Abraham Maslow kept an account of his summer at Non Linear Systems. He spelled out what he saw as the fundamental assumptions that underlay what he (inelegantly) called the Eupsychian Management Policy. As I read through his assumptions, which he captured in 1962, I was stunned at how similar so many of them were to the beliefs at Gore. Here are a few examples:
- Assume everyone (in the organization) is to be trusted
- Assume everyone is to be informed as completely as possible of as many facts and truths as possible, i.e., everything relevant to the situation
- Assume good will among all members of the organization rather than rivalry or jealousy
- Assume that everyone prefers to feel important, needed, useful, successful, proud, respected, rather than unimportant, interchangeable anonymous, wasted, unused, expendable, disrespected
Maslow laid out thirty-six such assumptions, and commented briefly on them. A few of Maslow’s views are probably not consistent with the Gore experience. For example, Maslow believed that “Eupsychian Management Policies” could only work when the organization was experiencing good business results. At Gore, most Associates believe that the real test of the value of the culture is in how it guides the Enterprise precisely in difficult times, and not only when business is good. But all in all, Maslow’s assumptions are a rich vein for mining for a deeper understanding of what underlies McGregor’s Theory Y, and by extension, the Gore culture. In future posts, I will reflect on these various assumptions of Maslow, striving for that deeper understanding.
Another interesting note: Non Linear Systems was founded by Allen Kay. Kay commented, as his company failed, that he had perhaps spent too much time trying to enact a particular management philosophy, and not enough time seeing to business results. (Allen Kay later went on to found an early computer company, the makers of the Kaypro computer.) At Gore, this same tension often exists—are we here to promote the Gore culture, or are we here to make money? I believe that tension has been resolved quite well at Gore. The culture is viewed as the way to “make money and have fun.” Terri Kelly, the current CEO, says that the ultimate objective is to create a highly effective Enterprise. If the Enterprise isn’t effective, it may be a sign that the culture needs to change. Or, it may be a sign that the culture is not being practiced effectively. So, Terri says, before we start looking to change the culture, let’s make sure we’re actually practicing it effectively. But it is clear that the culture is in service to long-term business success.
A final speculation. When I read about Allen Kay and his explicit interest in enacting a particular management philosophy, it suddenly struck me that many of the “model” Theory Y companies are companies founded by engineers. Kay and Non-Linear Systems. Bill and Dave of Hewlett-Packard. Bill Gore of Gore & Associates. Ken Olsen of DEC. Larry Craig and Sergey Brin of Google. There is something inherent in engineers, I suppose, that makes them believe that “there must be a better way,” and gives them the confidence that “we can find it.” So each of them resisted the “normal approach” to organization, sure that they could trust their own experience to found a better one.