Chapter 6


Having identified the Archetypes individually, it is possible to zoom out and conduct the same analysis for entire organisations such as companies. Although there is an analysis on Accidental Empires, a subsequent approach seems more appropriate, the one of Peter Thiel on his "Zero to One"1. The numerical system identifies three almost distinct stages:
Zero to One: This is the initial stage of a company which starts with nothing (zero) and tries to produce something (one). This stage involves a lot of experimentation, pivots, changes in the suggested business model and direction. The stage ends when things start becoming concrete and the organisation has decided that from now on it will follow a certain trajectory. These activities, getting back to chapter one, are related to the establishment of the "beachhead".
One to Ten: The company's business model has been more or less validated and established while, in this process, some infrastructure has been set up and is operational. The biggest by-product of the previous stage is that the company has orientation and identity. In this stage, the emphasis is in streamlining the previous successes while also scaling them up. "One" needs to be applied to a wider audience or market segment and become "Ten".
Ten to hundred: In this stage things are more certain, while expanding from the previous stage, many lessons have been learned, lots of wisdom has been gathered and the company has now formed its "recipe" for success. Now, this recipe needs to be applied as much as possible: it is when companies become global or start entering many similar markets. There is some room for adjustment but the need for it is far smaller, especially compared with the two previous stages. The company is mostly cloning itself here.
After that stage, usually two things can happen2:
Hundred to Zero - Death: Because the company is too busy cloning itself, at some point it reaches its natural limits either because it totally serves its market segment or because its current approach has reached its peak. From then on, the company's management and structure are interested more in maintaining the existing status, perhaps with some minor cosmetic adjustments. The death at this point can come from either a disruptor or from irrelevance. Companies at this size are unable to counter disruptors precisely because they have become too big to manoeuvre or too self-absorbed. Alternatively, they might slip to irrelevance, such as Blockbuster renting DVDs while the world has become digital.
Hundred to Zero - Rebirth: A very rare change of direction historically is when a company uses the experience accumulated as well as its cash reserves to reinvent itself and adjust to new market conditions. The most well-known but not the only example is Steve Job's return to Apple in the late 90s.

Archetypes appropriate for distinct company stages

While there is not a direct one-to-one relationship, describing the stages above and considering the archetypes, it would appear that a company in its "Zero to One" stage would be better served by Commandos, "One to Ten" by Infantry and the rest by Police.

In the fist stage, there is too much uncertainty and the IT department is usually small, while having to make many decisions in diverse number of areas that demand attention. It could be application development, architecture, third party integrations, deployment management, security, systems administration, user experience design, and probably many others. Apart from the above, it is very common to have to conduct some so called "pivots" or encounter setbacks forcing many of these decisions to be revisited.

The above paints a picture of a landscape more friendly to Commandos. Whoever is engaged in these stages needs to be able to adapt, learn new skills on the go or expand their existing ones. There also needs to be high communication bandwidth among employees and their management. The corporate environment in that stage can easily become chaotic, resulting in a place where few rules of traditional corporate governance apply.

In the "One to Ten" stage, employees need to stabilise and manage the aftermath of the previous stage: the user interface might be inconsistent or use wording that makes it very difficult to translate to other languages, the database architecture cannot scale further and needs to be reconsidered, that code module needs to be expanded to accommodate a number of different businesses rules, or checkout procedure needs to include promotions and discounts.

Compared with a company in the "Zero to One" stage, let's consider the case when the database infrastructure needs to expand from a single MySQL node to a cluster of two but in a way that will be easy to scale up to ten. In our example, the person responsible for this has a boundary which was not there before: the most important is the fact that it is established that the database system is MySQL probably with a known number of applications interacting with it, containing a specific database schema. There is a well defined situation that needs to be managed. Some things might have to be adjusted or disrupted in the process but no high impact decisions are to be made such as dropping the MySQL altogether and rewritimg all the application code that interacts with data, say, in Oracle.

Another factor is that, in some cases, things need to change gradually within the course of months or maybe years; an exercise that requires persistence and discipline. An example of this could be a change in the user interface that requires the use of a different theme including colour for company branding purposes. Because users are already using the applications and should not be disrupted by facing a completely different user interface overnight, a plan needs to be in place for changing a few elements at a time and by a small degree so that the changes will easily be digested and accepted. Over the course of time, the theme will reach the desired state, while looking as decent as possible in the intermediate stages. In the first wave phase someone would rewrite all the necessary modules and just "drop" the changes as they happen. This is the reason why early stage companies often have a different layout and theme in their home page and a different one once users log in.

Skipping stages, a historic perspective

This section refers to established companies that somehow skipped the first stages. For them, IT is either an afterthought, in theory they could work without it, or acts to support the organisation; IT is not a first class citizen. In order to understand corporate structuring of these companies, it helps to remember or imagine how the world of business used to be before the arrival of the personal computer and when it started being introduced.

Traditional businesses and organisations, say General Motors or government agencies, envisioned early on how information technology could make them more efficient and productive in their core functions. IT acts as a productivity multiplier and also as the ultimate facilitator. From this aspect, no matter how important, IT is always destined to be a servant. Such environments foster Police/Gamma type employees: What is really important happens somewhere else and they are here to offer support.

In the old days, a manager would dictate a memo or a letter to a typist which would then be faxed or photocopied and distributed. A modern manager would type it or, in some cases, still dictate what would become an email which then propagates through the corporate network via an email server. In this paradigm, infrastructure and the personnel supporting it have the same function and influence to the organisation as that of the secretary plus that of the person who fixes the photocopier or the fax machine and does the phone line maintenance combined.

By adopting this approach, IT is serving the business with a small impact on existing power structures or established decision making processes. A very useful and insightful cliché that was traditionally used when something becomes mechanised was usually that automation "... allows people to work with the information instead of gathering data...", essentially doing the same thing but smaller, cheaper, or faster. What does not change is who decides what should be done and how, the internal processes and who holds authority. An observation is that in many traditional organisations there is an organisational chart with a CTO role reporting theoretically straight to the CEO. In practice though, a CTO reports to basically everyone else who holds a "C" role or maybe not even that. In some places, where things fail or someone cannot do their job, the first attempt is to somehow try to blame IT.

Another concept that originates from the traditional business world is the tendency to try to make information technology related professions similar to existing traditional ones. Should not there be a professional body that grants licenses as it happens with doctors, civil engineers and also gardeners? How do we know that you can use a technology without being certified by its vendor or an independent institution? If configuring an email server is a job for a systems administrator then why should a developer ever be allowed near it? Shouldn't someone re-sit the scrum exams every two years? When are these people going to become just like rest of us?

Other topics about companies and archetypes

A note on the Pioneers, Settlers, Town planners approach

This is an alternative model suggested at around 2005-06 by Simon Wardley, who is inspired, similarly to this book, by Cringely's distinction. On a first reading, it seems that Wardley gives credit and love to every member of his taxonomy while in this publication there is some disdain towards the Police category. Comparing with the thesis of this book, there seems to be something going wrong: why does one author seem to approve of everybody while another3 seems to hold some grudge against Police/Gammas

Reading of a post4 with the definitions, the magic word in Simon Wardley is "innovation": his Pioneers, as well as his Settlers, and also his Town planners innovate in different areas with different targets. Nevertheless, they innovate or add value each in their own way. Comparing with the approach of IT Archetypes, Pioneers and Settlers could be mapped to Commandos/Alphas, Settlers and Town planners to Infantry/Betas, yet there is no one that maps to Police/Gammas. Maybe, from his perspective, these people are unnecessary or should not participate in the work force, or from where he sits, he does not have to encounter them.

Comments on diversity and inclusiveness

The specific subject has become popular recently so it is beneficial to investigate it with regards to our taxonomy. After his personal research on the subject, Stuart Diamond in "Getting More" summarises: "The biggest cause of growth in the U.S. gross national product since the end of World War II has been new technology. New technology has been largely developed by innovators and innovators are different. They represent change. They represent a level of discomfort as new things are tried and instituted". Specifically to the internal structuring of a company: "if someone says to me 'We are different from each other', I am going to say 'Great! We are going to make money!' Homogeneity is not as profitable as Differences. I like to say 'get some people who disagree with us so that we can make more money'

Zero to One companies want to maintain a good mix of talents and capabilities because they need to be strong in many areas while the emphasis might shift from time to time based on the needs of the company. The people they want to attract need to have a wide spectrum of capabilities, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The way the accumulation of those will behave will determine the shape of the company. It is acceptable to have people from different backgrounds maintaining their capabilities and orientation working together.

One to Ten companies are even more oriented towards inclusiveness. There is an orientation and elements of business culture in place where an individual comes to contribute with his/her own experiences and opinion towards the goal, influencing but not determining the outcome. It is common when having to complete a new task to ask questions such as "Could we do it differently?", "How did you manage that in your previous company?", "Is there a better way to...?".

Ten to Hundred companies do not really want a mix of talents as they aim to create a mono-culture. There, each employee is measured against how he conforms to the company's established norms and way of doing things. They really do not want to diversify at all. Though, because the term is popular, usually the following pattern of behaviour is utilised: the companies hire people with different racial, national, religious or other backgrounds who then have to get dressed, talk, behave the same way or approach each business situation the same way and then they call this diversity. They project the image of a company that "has offices all over the world" or has "people from 999 countries", but it looks like a rewrite of the words of Tacitus: "where they make a wasteland, they call it peace", here "where they hire people from different countries/races/genders, they call it diversity".

A transactional analysis perspective

Somehow similar conclusions can be derived from applying transactional analysis5 to stages of companies. In transactional analysis, people conduct interactions within one of three potential states: as an adult, as a child or as a parent. When a child interacts with another child we have states of "play" such as exploration, discovery, creativity. When two adults interact, we have clear communication based on facts, opinions, understanding, a one-to-one conversation. A different state is when an adult becomes a parent and communicates with a child, or another adult that adopts the behaviour of a child. There, the parent is either nurturing ("I am asking you to do as I say for your own good") or critical ("do as I say or else punishment"). Similarly the person behaving as a child can be either adaptive ("yes" - but without understanding why) or rebellious ("no" - but again without knowing why).

With a crash course on transactional analysis projecting to the company taxonomy, in the first "Zero to One" stage, the playful behaviours have to be necessary or dominant in order to create and discover something new. Afterwards, the company becomes a business or enters its adulthood where adult behaviours are more prevalent. The company has discovered which game it is going to play in the previous phase and now it needs to follow some rules and excel at it. In the Ten to Hundred phase, some adults are supposed to know how things should be and employees acting as children should trust them and follow their lead.

The concept of killing childhood or play-states and how it is conducted is the subject of the next chapter, where its mechanics’ consequences are discussed from an archetype perspective.

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  1. The direct mapping would be first, second, and third wave which is how Cringely in Accidental Empires approaches it. The approaches are very similar but Peter Thiel's seems a little bit closer to what is being described and is also simpler. It is also interesting to triangulate with an additional point of reference.
  2. This is an expansion devised for this chapter so it does not originate from "Zero to One" nor "Accidental Empires".
  3. Definitely me, perhaps also Cringely.
  4. On Pioneers, Settlers, Town Planners and Theft,
  5. An introductory paper is available also in bibliography.

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