— Seth Godin (via dpstyles)
— Calvin Coolidge
— Jim Barksdale (via @fredwilson)
— Theodore Roosevelt
Recently, I have been fascinated by the recent Quora strings re: “What it’s like to work at Square.” The main one is here (answer to the question: Is Square an unpleasant place to work?), but there are others. Totally worth reading. These, mostly negative posts, aren’t great for Square, but provide some really important lessons for those of us trying to build companies.
“…I just wanted to add something else about what I look back on fondly. When I worked at Square, my happiest memories are times spent not working: company movie out at Metreon, Larry King visiting, and having great, casual conversations in cabanas with friends.
Contrast to when I was at Apple, my fondest memories were drawing app icons and interface elements. It sounds weird, but I really enjoy doing that (that’s why I made that my profession). And being able to do that for a company like Apple made me very happy, no matter how late into the evening I sometimes spent working on things.”
I really love this comment. I think it’s a very important statement about what is really important when building a company culture - more specifically the difference between the SOCIAL aspect of a company/culture and the actual WORK.
I love this because so many companies (especially tech start-ups) spend too much of their time building the SOCIAL side of the workplace. Pool tables, company outings, office parties, visiting celebrities, etc. But, what Louie’s quote reminds us is that the social piece isn’t what truly matters. What really matters is the work - or more specifically the opportunity to do great work.
Now, I’m not saying the social aspect isn’t important - I’m just saying it’s not the most important. It’s the gravy, not the turkey. A great social environment on top of a great work environment is great. But a great social environment on top of a shitty work environment is like lipstick on a pig. It’s a soulless facade.
[It actually reminds me of a rule my wife and I have about restaurants with white tablecloths. We don’t eat at them. We see a white tablecloth as a sign of insecurity - and we worry that restaurants that use them are trying to cover-up for their shitty food or weak dining experience. Of course, we realize that not all restaurants with white tablecloths serve shitty food, but we don’t bother to take the risk.]
What Louie’s quote points out is something that I’ve believed for a long time. What matters most to people at work (at least the good people) is their ability to do great work. People want to be proud of what they do. They want to be challenged and pushed to produce things they didn’t think possible. When you create an environment that enables people to do their best work, you will not only get the best out of your people, but also continue to attract the type of people that do great work.
For me, the greatest achievement in company-building will come 20 years after all is said and done. If, after 20 years and 4 other jobs, the people that work with me now can say,
“I did the best work of my life at [my company].”
…then I would have achieved something special. This is my goal.
SO…how do you do build this type of culture? Well, I don’t know for sure…but I have some thoughts:
- Strive to build great, important products - Sounds obvious, but I think it’s important. When you strive to build great products that will have an impact on the world (make a dent in the universe), then the people working on them will be proud to be a part - even if they are contributing just a small piece. When I worked in the film business, I worked on some very good, important movies at the time. My role was tiny, but I took pride in being a part.
- Create a learning environment - push people to learn new skills on a regular basis. No excuses. Support it with whatever resources are necessary.
- Give people the opportunity to work on bigger pieces - with any job, one will have to work on small, seemingly insignificant pieces of the whole. But once/quarter, make sure everyone has the opportunity to take on something bigger.
- Use the phrase, “you can do better than that” liberally - You don’t have to be an asshole or tell people that their work sucks, but when you push them to “do better”, they will push themselves to do just that. And they will gain greater satisfaction once they finally ‘get it right.’
- People have to have the opportunity to be creative - Like Louie mentions earlier in his answer, good people who feel like they are always executing on someone else’s vision get bored and end up feeling trapped. And this doesn’t go just for designers. It goes for everyone - from engineering to office manager. The work that people do when they’re given the freedom to be creative will ultimately be the work of which they are most proud.
I guess when it comes right down to it, my goal is to work side-by-side with people who are doing the best work of their careers. That’s an exciting place to be. And to me, not much else matters.
“Be the change you want to see in the world…”
- Mahatma Gandhi
“….or shut the fuck up.”
- My addendum
Idle complaints get on my nerves.