Lab Rats is a critical view of current business practices, particularly in Silicon Valley. The book describes a profit driven culture where people are used and discarded rather than supported and developed as meaningful drivers of the culture itself.
The author looks at the operations at some high tech giants like Amazon and Netflix. In the former workplace, workers report poor physical working conditions and low wages. Employees are subject to constant monitoring, including bathroom breaks. This approach leads to poor productivity and high employee turnover.
The main tenant of the Netflix corporate culture is “We’re a team, not a family”. While a team may suggest a group working together to reach common goals, this is not the case here. In this case the team is operated like a professional sports team; the best players are acquired, and if they don’t produce results, they are quickly cut and the team moves on. Simply put, it is a demanding environment with no security.
Relevant to us as practitioners of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, Lyons describes an experience with LSP and extrapolates to discuss its’ impact on corporate culture. Lyons’ take on LSP is disturbing; during a brief meeting with a facilitator in a coffee shop, they follow the exercise of building a duck from six Lego pieces. The exercise is awkward and the facilitator and the LSP methodology are dismissed as, “my play date with the Lego lady”. From this short meeting, Lyons goes on to infer the entire experience of LSP is a waste of corporate time and funds, is humiliating and belittling to employees and irrelevant to today’s working world.
Overall the book does a good job of setting out the challenges faced by workers in industry today: demanding schedules, pressure to perform, constant monitoring and uncertain futures. However, in others areas, the book falls short. There is no analysis or recommendations on how these industries can transition to workplaces that address the needs of workers and shareholders at the same time. The author seems to place the blame on “kooky” management ideas and the use of popular business methodologies such as Agile, Lean and LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® for these problems when in fact the root cause may simply be the drive for short term profits above all else. The real danger in Lyons’ book to us as facilitators is the publicity it has received and the work we need to now do overcoming the already prevailing bias against play.