Strong opinions, weakly held

Applying judgement and influence

I’m just going to keep posting stuff about Valve until I get tired of it.

Did you read the Valve employee handbook? If not, you should. To catch you up, at Valve, the corporate structure is completely flat. They have no managers, and everyone decides what to work on for themselves. The handbook explains what is expected of Valve employees and how people should adapt to that corporate structure.I’m sure some people find it intriguing and others terrifying.

Succeeding at Valve depends on two things, the application of one’s judgement and influence. Employees use their judgement to decide where they can add the most value for Valve. They use their influence to recruit other people to help them build the things that they have decided are valuable. Find a problem to work on, convince other people to help you solve it. Nobody is empowered to order anybody to do anything.

What occurred to me after reading the Valve handbook is that you or I can work in the Valve style regardless of where we work. If you work anywhere but Valve, you probably have a manager and you may have people who you manage as well. Within the constraints of your job, though, you should be relying on judgement and influence rather than hierarchy in your work, just like a Valve employee does.

If, in your judgement, there’s something more valuable you could be working on, you should be convincing people (like your boss) that your time could be better spent working on that other thing. Just be sure that you’re open-minded enough to accept that your judgement could be mistaken. If you’re right, though, it ought to be easy to convince people that your time could be better spent on a more valuable project.

At the same time, rely on influence rather than authority to get the help you need to get your work done. People generally do better work if they believe in the project they’re working on, and the ability to recruit volunteers is a good sign that whatever you’re working on is worth doing. People sometimes mistake interesting for valuable, but it’s always better to work with enthusiastic volunteers than with people who are doing something just because someone told them to do it.

Obviously if you work on an oil rig or at Burger King, this approach may not work. However, the field I understand best is software development, and if you’re working on software, you should the Valve philosophy to heart. Use your judgement and influence to make sure you’re adding as much value as possible at your job. If that gets you into trouble, maybe it’s time to use your judgement and influence to land a job more suited to your talents.


  1. I’m enjoying the utopian ideal described in the Valve documents, but I’m so busy at work, all of the time, cleaning up the bad decisions of my coworkers and people who no longer exist at my company, that I can’t actually get my own work done, let alone creatively and pre-emptively sign myself up to work on other projects.

  2. I’ve just been reading about W. L. Gore (makers of Gor Tex, among other things) who pioneered this management approach in the 60s! Projects only move forward if the person starting it is able to convince enough colleagues to help them with it.

    And I agree with your comments about it being possible to take this approach individually even within a hierarchical system. Ordering people around gets compliance instead of commitment. You want the latter for sustained success and that takes a collaborative approach to achieve.

  3. Don’t discount the idea working at a Bugeer King. Yes it is a bit harder to exert influence in the fast food industry’s very rigid structure but there are often little ways that one can exert influence for positive change you just have to be smart about it.

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