As you wish

Wikipedia, on The Princess Bride:

In a Renaissance-era world a beautiful young woman named Buttercup lives on a farm in the country of Florin. She delights in verbally abusing the farm hand Westley, whom she refers to as “farm boy”, by demanding that he perform chores for her. Westley’s only answer is “As you wish”. She eventually realizes that what he is really saying is, “I love you.”

How powerful it is to show love with humility and patience.
What would happen in my marriage, my friendships, and my relationships with my neighbors if I answered every comment and request with “as you wish” – even if only silently, in my head?

Doing something vs. owning something

From an All Company email to Logos…
Someone interviewing for a job recently asked me, “What’s the most important thing for being successful at Logos?”
My answer: ownership.
There’s a big difference between ‘doing something’ and ‘owning something.’
Doing things is very important, and very useful. When stuff gets done, we move ahead — products are created, projects are finished, things are shipped, customers are satisfied. I love it when someone gets things done.
But what I love even more is when someone owns things.
An example:
When my wife and I got married, we quickly agreed that taking out the trash was my responsibility.
We brought different expectations to this task, however. Being an efficiency expert (that’s code for ‘lazy around the house’), I believed that the right time to take out the trash was when the trash can was completely full. And not just ‘full’, but ‘full and I pushed it down a few times before adding more.’ This minimized trips from the kitchen to the garbage can and — green bonus! — minimized use of plastic trash bags.
My wife believed that the trash should be emptied a lot more often. Before weekly trash pickup, even if the kitchen can isn’t full. After disposing of smelly garbage or tuna fish cans. Any time you’d have to press it down to fit more in.
So I had to be ‘assigned’ the task of taking out the trash 100% of the time, since she wanted it taken out more often than I naturally would. And I took it out, as assigned. I got it done. I believed that my job performance was 100% satisfactory in this area. And, technically, it was.
I was an idiot, and not moving ahead very quickly in the ‘husband’ career track.
Skipping forward 20 years of marriage (and the very instructive period during which I was the task-assigner and my son the assignee), I now do things differently.
I empty the can if I can see trash near the top. I empty it after every meal prep. I empty it if fish was present or even discussed in the kitchen. I put a new bag in before the old bag goes out the door. I double-bag messy / smelly bags. I take the recyclables out too, and then I rinse any drips from cans and bottles before putting the bin back in the kitchen.
I own taking out the trash.
And as a result (of this and more) I’ve been promoted to higher-rank in the husband department.
When I took out the trash every time it was assigned, my wife could never stop thinking about the trash. Even though I took it out, I only did so in response to her. She had to own keeping the kitchen looking neat, preventing fish smells from permeating the house, etc. I was getting things done, but not really taking any of the mental / organizational responsibility away from her. I wasn’t making things much easier around the house. I did stuff, but still had to be supervised — closely!
Owning something is doing the task, thinking broadly about the task, dealing with the unexpected challenges a task presents, and making sure no one else ever has to think about that task again. When people own things, other people are freed to give more time and energy to the tasks they own. We can all get more done and grow even faster.
Everybody here already owns things. There are dozens of things you just take care of and nobody has to think about. (Thank you!) But do you own everything you touch? Do you stretch your abilities? Do you consciously work to ensure that when you’re done there won’t be a hole, a bug, an issue that wasn’t considered or an unexpected problem?
When you take on a task, are your co-workers and supervisors secure in never thinking about it again?
It’s great to get things done. But if you want to grow and be really successful — if you want to be the person called on to lead a new project, to take on a new responsibility, to get promoted and put in charge and sent to negotiate the deal all alone — then ownership is the key.

A fearless worldview

An email I sent to the whole company a month ago…
It’s been a month of fantastic conversations for me. I had some great meetings and conversations here at Logos, then hit the road and had more great conversations with people in our industry, at churches, in other businesses, at a “Code for the Kingdom” hackathon, and with Logos staff at the Tempe office.
I met people who were excited about the opportunities for the church, publishing, and their businesses and I met people who were circling the wagons in their business or personal life in fear of change and the future.
These conversations have had me thinking about the difference between an optimistic and pessimistic worldview. Or, rather, ‘work-view.’ And about what that work-view means at Logos.
While I certainly know how to be critical, in the big picture I’m optimistic: we’re an awesome team doing awesome work for awesome customers — things are only going to get better! Setbacks are annoying, but they’re just setbacks — we’re moving ahead into a brighter future. Of course we’re making mistakes — we’re doing new things we haven’t yet mastered! But we’re smart and persistent and we’re going to figure it out.
But I realize that not everyone feels this way. And things that seem positive to some people can be frightening to others.

  • I talked with someone who was uncomfortable taking advantage of the freedoms in our employee manual.
  • I talked with someone who felt that an argument over a technical point meant that I was mad at him.
  • I talked with someone who translated one of my comments on a specific project into a set of rigid rules for all future projects to ensure they’d never let me down again: I’d never again see the thing I didn’t like. I’d also never see a dozen other perfectly good things either, just to be safe…

What I found is that some people here are afraid — of making a mistake, of getting in trouble, or even of getting fired.
If that’s you, I’m sorry you feel that way. The good news is, you don’t have to be afraid.
Here at Logos, we don’t hire everyone who walks through the door. We’re very selective: we don’t just take the time to find people who can do the job, we try to find people, like you, who will grow into doing it better over time, or into an even bigger, more valuable position of responsibility. When you’re growing like we are, it’s irresponsible not to be ‘growing the bench’ of talented people who will be ready for the new challenges we will encounter.
But what about mistakes? Should you be afraid of doing the wrong thing or disagreeing with someone in leadership or spilling 20 ounces of hot tea on the white rug in my office? (It happened.)
No. There’s no reason to be afraid, because we have a culture that recognizes mistakes as a learning opportunity and a chance to improve our processes, not as a failing of individuals. (And, because all of us individuals fail, sometimes I make the mistake of reacting angrily to something. I’m working on that, and appreciate your patience with me. I can assure you, though, that it is just a temporary flare of emotion, the only consequence of which is chagrin on my part….)
If you are here, you are, by definition, someone we believe in, have invested in, and believe will be even more valuable in the future.
Stepping into that future can be scary; that’s why it’s so important to keep looking to our values: Honesty, Openness, Awesomeness, Growth, Initiative, Elegance and Shipping. If we all aspire to these, and “Endeavor to exhibit grace, and accept it” (from the last slide in our Employee Handbook), we can all have a ‘work-view worldview’ that is as optimistic and excited as mine.
And you should, because we’re facing a world of exciting opportunities to learn, grow, and make a difference!
— Bob
P.S. Bonus reading: This blog post contains an important lesson about Logos and every great company. No, not the ‘wait to get fired’… the point about how companies are schizophrenic… (This also helps explain why we try to have so few rules; that way you don’t have to break so many rules to do the right thing, which is what we want anyway.)
P.P.S. Extra bonus reading: “Blameless PostMortems and a Just Culture” at Etsy:

“What if Michael Bay did our developer recruiting video?!”

The action-packed, explosive-laden trailer faded from the screen, and the developer next to me joked “That’s what our developer recruiting video should look like!”
It seemed like a great idea, so we brought it up with the filmmaking-types in the design department. “We need something awesome! Explosions! Police cars, ambulances!”
I guess they didn’t have the budget for all that. But I’m pretty happy with what they did come up with.

I want a camera built into my car

I want a camera built into my car. I want it right in front of the rear-view mirror, capturing the same wide view I’m seeing through the windshield.
I want it to record on a continuous loop. If I press the steering-wheel mounted trigger, I want it to store 10 seconds before and after that moment so that I can choose the perfect still, or capture something I just saw.
I want to offload images via WiFi or Bluetooth or the SD slots or USB ports new cars already have for music import.
Another obvious feature would be to store video immediately before an accident, though I imagine this kind of “black-box” recording (and the likelihood of it being subpoenaed in an accident or crime investigation) would be a concern to some people.
There appear to be plenty options as after-market accessories, but I don’t want wires and suction cups. I just want it built in and working ‘automagically.’

Nacho perfection

Nachos are the perfect food. Prepare them perfectly:
Line the tray. Scraping melted cheese off a dish or tray is no way to end an evening. Line your tray with heavy duty aluminum foil.
Thin chips. The heavy-gut-guilt of a bad tray of nachos comes from thick corn chips. Remember, we’re not here for the corn. It’s just a light, crunchy base for cheese.
2 year-old cheddar. Medium, sharp, or extra sharp? No. Buy cheddar graded 2 years, 3 years, or ‘weaponized.’

Pro-tip: Grate cheddar onto a paper towel or, better yet, pre-sliced wax paper. Easy to dump on the chips, easy to clean up.

Chili con limon. Or “chile lime seasoning.” This is the secret; shake it liberally over the cheese and chips.
Jalepenos. Lots of them.
Broil. Don’t let me hear that you are microwaving nachos…

Business is triage

Any idiot can run any project well.
Hire experienced professionals. Staff every project completely. Get the best tools. Use the highest quality materials. Have independent consultants and auditors verify everything. Take the time to do things right, and never settle for second-best.
If leadership is the art of delegation, then everyone can lead a product launch, a construction project, or a rocket launch.
All you need to succeed is a pile of clichés (“Never settle for second best,” “Quality is job one,” “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well,” etc.) and an even bigger pile of cash.
Fast Company had a great article years ago about software development for the Space Shuttle. There are some interesting and even useful lessons about the process that kept software errors to 1 in 420,000 lines of code.
The problem with applying these lessons to my business: at that point they’d been working on the code for 22 years and were still spending $35 million a year on maintaining it. I can’t afford government-level quality. (And I mean that in every way it can be interpreted…)
Business is triage. Resources are limited and competition is intense, and the never-ending job of a business leader is deciding what we can get along without and how good something has to be before we ship it.
Sometimes a well-meaning employee asks when we’re going to “get through this phase” — stop changing direction quickly, stop taking on big projects with small teams, stop shipping things as soon as they are market-viable, etc.
The answer is “never, I hope.” Because a business that isn’t in triage mode is a business on its way out of business.

Profit Is Why You Are in Business

Does your business have a noble mission? Mine does, too. But making a profit is what enables a business to accomplish its mission. Profit needs to be the first priority or you will not have a chance to pursue any others.
It is easy to fall into the trap of labeling things “strategic” as an excuse for unprofitable work. I know, I have done it.
Chapter 10 of Fire Someone Today is now online, and summarized in these slides:

The four-word employee handbook

Everything I want from myself and others at work (and in life!) can be summed up in four words:

Honor God. Love others.

When we started Logos Bible Software twenty years ago, I used a software program to generate a boilerplate “attorney approved” employee handbook. When employees asked “What’s our policy on…?” I might refer them to the handbook, since I couldn’t always remember what it said. But more often I would just approve their special request, or tell them to use their best judgment.
Then I took the Zappos tour, and read the Netflix culture slides. And I realized that we already employed awesome, smart people who trust each other. What did we need a butt-covering book of legalese for?
So that’s it: Honor God. Love others. Our new employee handbook in a nutshell, and the primary measure we weigh decisions against.
To complement the nutshell-handbook we developed a set of slides that expound on the theme, meet the letter of the law, introduce our corporate values, and explain the culture. We even decided on two actual rules: no smoking, and no open flames.
It can be scary to work with so few guidelines. Managers wonder if employees will abuse the un-tracked vacation time; employees wonder if they’re embracing too much or too little freedom. It requires trust and openness and conversation. But after 18 months it is working well.