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Valve Handbook Analysis Day 2 (title page – viii)

So if you missed me introducing this topic, we’re going through and discussing the Valve Employee handbook to imagine more human spaces to work and to play. We’d like to then apply the outcomes of our conversations to the development of employee culture at the Disruption Department.

The handbook itself opens with the title page, which includes a subtitle that describes in brief the purpose of the manual:

A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do

Couple that with this description in the preface:

Although the goals in this book are important, it’s really your ideas, talent, and energy that will keep Valve shining in the years ahead. Thanks for being here. Let’s make great things.

So first off, this is an entirely different sort of “employee handbook” one might find upon being hired at a typical organization (like a school or district). The “nuts and bolts issues” are actually left to the web, not unanswered, just given a different context. This leaves the handbook itself to focus mainly on messaging and context.

I say messaging because I believe the Valve handbook acts as a self-referential marketing mechanism. If people say good products sell themselves, Valve is saying that good companies do good work because they are good companies.

It’s funny, because I’ve heard a lot of admins talk about their credentials, or how special their school is, or how much they care, etc.. However, almost always, the more a person talks about these less tangible things, the less of an impact the school has on children’s lives. Talk less, do more. I think this is the first message the authors of the handbook are trying to convey.

Additionally, and more importantly, the authors of the handbook are setting the tone for how they want their employees to act. Rather than saying “We expect you to do this…”, they simply explain that “we hired you because you are awesome”, “we do awesome things”, “you’ll be able to do awesome things here”.

Talk about flow. Talk about intrinsic motivation. Talk about “buy-in”. As a school teacher, I’m constantly treated in the opposite way of this philosophy. I’m constantly treated like “we hired you because you were all we could get”, “we try really hard”, “good luck”.

Additionally, the first days of a Valve employee are spent exploring. The first days of a new teacher are spend sitting in a room with other new teachers and listening to someone talk for a few hours. This doesn’t exactly make you feel excited.

I just can’t imagine entering into this environment with the feeling I had control and was generally trusted as much as Valve employees are.

Any thoughts?


About mrsenorhill

Head of Product @linksdao


3 thoughts on “Valve Handbook Analysis Day 2 (title page – viii)

  1. It’s a striking point that Employee and Student handbooks might have a positive vision statement or two, but they’re primarily restrictive documents. Not only do the detail what students and teachers shouldn’t do, for CYA reasons they go into excessive detail about *horrible* things that the school is afraid we might do! By contrast, Valve’s handbook devotes little or no space to what behavior is out of bounds for employees, and spends oodles of it providing examples of ways that a T-Shaped employee could work on something that seems radically out of their prescribed role.

    There’s an incredible wealth of ideas in that handbook, along with a depressing map of the vast territory between how schools (and, lets be fair, most other companies) operate and the Valve model. I’m excited to talk through this with some other educators who have given it as much thought as I have over the past few months.

    Posted by tieandjeans | June 16, 2012, 11:39 pm
  2. YES to exploring – we seldom give kids time to discover their surroundings, communities, and “content” through play. That means we seldom give ourselves time to observe kids learning in ways they enjoy. As a team-member working alongside kinds to learn and make things, I find it invaluable to learn how my students play. Given enough time kids teach us how to teach them.

    I SO want to begin this year by inviting all of my kids to read this book as part of insightful playtime at the beginning of the year.

    Please keep up the updates!


    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 21, 2012, 10:17 pm


  1. Pingback: Game Design and the Utility of Novelty « Tie And Jeans - November 20, 2012

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