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Zappos is struggling with Holacracy because humans aren’t designed to operate like software

Source | Quartz 

Las Vegas, Nevada

“We want to believe that we are thinking, rational people and on occasion tangle with emotion, flick it out of the way, and go back to thinking,” renowned vulnerability expert Brene Brown told a packed house at the Smith Center in downtown Las Vegas just before Labor Day Weekend. “That is not the truth. The truth is we are emotional beings who on occasion think.”

Brown has become a celebrity in the realm of self-help based on the popularity of her 2010 TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, which has been viewed nearly 30 million times. She is a Ph.D researcher at the University of Houston who has collected 15 years of data on topics including vulnerability, courage, empathy and shame. Her message has even sparked a movement of sorts around radical vulnerability (although she personally does not support “radical vulnerability”; it’s not backed up by the data). In a culture that tends to focus on developing a superficial kind of confidence, Brown pitches vulnerability as the definition of inner strength and “the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

On this evening, Brown built upon her popular keynote by digging into human physiology, and how our natural wiring affects our ability and willingness to be vulnerable and connect with other human beings. Her host, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, sporting a red Mohawk, introduced her to the crowd, which included a number of his 1,500 employees.

That Hsieh would tap Brown to rally his troops is out of step with his management philosophy. Hsieh doesn’t believe in vulnerability for himself (“vulnerability implies you’re insecure about something,” he explained to Quartz) and has reorganized his company under a system, Holacracy, that has been criticized for putting a disproportionate focus on process. In fact, the system is pushing Zappos employees to operate in a way that goes against their very human nature.

Running like an operating system

Holacracy was developed by software engineer Brian Robertson, who has sold CEOs like Hsieh on a product that promises to push humans to run like a computer operating system. The biggest barrier to such hyper-efficiency is the complexity of human emotion. Holacracy doctrine, in turn, attempts to eliminate or compartmentalize the ways in which our humanity interferes with productivity.

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