Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Invisible lines

Everyday, I teeter on an invisible line at work. I oscillate between my passion about my product/work being my biggest asset - to being a thing that actually stands in the way of progress of myself or my team. When does this passion for the product start harming it?  

You all know the type. Been at "company x" for a zillion years, been through all types of launches... has "already tried that and it didn't work." Maybe even some of you are on the other side of that and get annoyed when new hires try to re-invent the wheel. Deep down, we all reaslise that everyone is just (hopefully) trying to do the very best thing for the product. I struggle with this invisible line all the time. I'm a naturally passionate person, but occasionally (in extreme cases) it causes me to talk, act and feel like the world's biggest asshole &  the world's worst colleague. I don't like feeling or working that way. But do truly great products ever get built in perfect harmony? 

How can anyone distinguish what is truly worth putting yourself out there for? Do you advocate for it even at the expense of co-worker's discomfort? Or do you spend a reasonable amount of energy arguing a rational path and going along with a decision after it's been made even if it's not the one you would prefer. 

For me, it's a sliding scale of the following:  
  • If someone is clearly better/more knowledgable than me: Defer nearly completely to them. 
  • If I have thoughts and feedback, but ultimately not in my domain: Give constructive feedback, defer immediately. 
  • If I feel somewhat strongly: Spend some time debating, understanding each side, arguing pros & cons and come to a mutually (slightly uncomfortable for everyone) way to move forward.
  • If I feel very very strongly: Don't let anything stop me from advocating for what I believe is fundamentally the right path. 

It's this last one that puts me into uncomfortable territory at least once a quarter. I know that having someone on your team who cares deeply about the product is usually a huge asset, but you have to take the good with the bad and this is what comes along with passion. Passion cannot only remain on the positive side. Strong passion is not compartmentalizable. All in or all out. 

I guess I'm just lucky enough that my colleagues ultimately understand where it's coming from and still generally like working with me, but it doesn't make me feel any less dreadful at the end of the day. 


Louis Gray said...

Unsurprisingly, you're not alone.

I spent 8 1/2 years (2001-09) at a company where I was promoted three times, and in the same time, I had 8 different bosses. When one of the best ones came in, around 2005, he brought a solid team with him (finally), who of course wanted to change everything, and kept making references to "we've never tried that here before".

I wanted the processes to work, but also kept wanting to pipe up... "Yes, we did try that, in 2002 and it didn't work." or "In 2003, we ran this campaign and here's what we found..." or... "The reason we made the Web site like that in 2004 was because..."

After a while, I learned rather than correcting their every move, what I could do was be the less noisy but more seasoned vet who could add tips where it made sense but let them work as a unit as they were used to. After all, if we hadn't been a dramatic success by 2005, maybe some change wouldn't be half bad.

I've got some posts I still want to do in my "Real Valley Stories" series I know you'll like. One I promise I'll do is the time (in 2000?) where I almost quit over ugly looking URLs. I was furious over URL structure. It may not be design, but it's something, and I hope to tell you that story soon.

You have to pick your battles, and when you don't rule the world, it can be hard to know when to fight and when to fold. It takes a lot of time to figure that out, and some nights, you no doubt go home very frustrated. But come back the next day and start again. Too many hellish days in a row? Time to think about where the big issues lie.

Jenna Bilotta said...

thanks, louis. I know people all over the valley experience this... and it's not unique to me, but I had to get it out.

and yeah, I got into a massive debate about URLs today. It is a design issue, for better or worse.

Louis Gray said...

I finally posted my story about URL structure. It's been in my "to do" list for a long time.


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