My Review of Scott Berkun’s The Year Without Pants

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This is an inside look about the company, Automattic, that hosts the blogging service, wordpress.com, on which this review appears.

But there is more to this book than a look at Automattic, WordPress, and blogging. (Though I did find it fascinating and wonderful to read about how this site is continuously updated to provide me with the tools to write this review and other posts as well.)

This is about work 21.0 – 21st century work which, as the author Scott Berkun points out in the final pages, may also help recover the value and place of work:

“In the centuries of civilization prior, many more of us had crafts and skills that gave us pride. It might just be that progressive companies like Automattic are open to the idea that technology can return some of the meaning of work we’ve lost.”

A Year Without Pants published by Jossey-Bass and written by tech veteran and best-selling writer, Scott Berkun, is a study of one company whose employees are literally scattered around the world, writing code, creating new blogging templates, and helping millions of bloggers resolve issues as they write and publish. It is a fascinating study about new geographic and human boundaries in work.

A study in contrasts between Berkun’s experience at Microsoft and his year at WordPress.com, this book is also a study in contrasts between what he calls Cathedral-style thinking and Bazaar-style thinking alongside the dynamics of open-source culture. As a result, Berkun takes the reader into a new world of work: de-centralized and without the demands and requirements of more traditional workplaces. In doing so Berkun highlights the challenges, and opportunities, of productivity, climate, interpersonal relationships, and organizational culture in a new style of work that is changing the workplace and the interpersonal nature of work. This changing work environment is noted in the challenge Berkun had in reading the emotional climate of the workplace while not being in the same room with his co-workers because it often raised questions as to what others were both thinking and what they were feeling as they communicated electronically over thousands of mile in text and pixels devoid of easily read human emotion.

Berkun also wrestled with leadership and motivation of the team, Team Social, he was selected to lead though they were not face to face everyday. How do you motivate, a group of people, separated by thousands of miles and several times zones to work well and work productively? In that vein, Berkun makes a statement that struck me as both honest and insightful as to the nature and scope of workplace and organizational leadership today which has been built on the long-established culture of the face-to-face workplace:

“My best leadership tricks depended on being in the same room with people. Not being able to look folks in the eye in tough situations feels wrong. Would you propose marriage to someone online? Or tell a child her mother was dead in a text message? I wonder that what made me good at work wouldn’t transfer to a completely online environment.”

Filled with both first person narrative and interspersed with a look back, around, and ahead regarding both personal experience and thoughtful reflection on the changing nature of work and the workplace, A Year Without Pants is an insightful book about the new work place, and, I think, a new style of emerging leadership to lead and serve this new work place. A workplace which maybe closer to you, and already operating near you, today.

I liked this book for both the stories illustrating Berkun’s observations as well as the inside look at the company which has allowed me to connect though this website and share this review in a wider way than was possible even ten years ago. It has also given me a look at a new workplace environment which is allowing people to live differently and perhaps in a better way than before.

I rate this book a “great” read.

Note: I received a copy of this book via the Amazon Vine review program in exchange for a review of the book. I was not required to write a positive review.

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