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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Complaining about water bottles is a good thing

A certain CEO once said something along the lines of "if we're complaining about water bottles, we're doing fine". At the time he said it, the biggest annoyance most people could raise was that kind of stuff. Water bottles had been removed in a supposed effort to "be green", but they had been replaced by other things which were also in bottles. It didn't make much sense.

Some time after that, things weren't so happy. Water bottles could still theoretically be a point of contention, but they were now eclipsed by much bigger and uglier problems. Now it was more like "my projects never launch" or "all we do is work on ways for people to share pictures of cats" or even "we offer seven figures to keep people and they still leave". There were other comments like "we've become evil" and "I don't want to be associated with this".

Seriously, think about this. Compare "where did the water bottles go?" to "I spend more time doing backroom deals for computing resources than I do writing code, and I'm supposed to be a software engineer". Which position would you rather inhabit? One of those people is so bogged down in stupid things that they will never achieve greatness again.

It reminded me of some basic Intro to Psych stuff from my days in school. Back then, they were talking about how you needed to figure out the whole "food and shelter" thing before you could dare approach higher-order issues.

This theory is called Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and I suspect it applies to corporate life. Basically, assume that people are always going to want more. You can then gauge about where they are in the hierarchy of needs based on their complaints.

If people are obviously seeking things at the top, you're probably doing well. You still need to look for ways for them to feel fulfilled or they'll just stagnate, but at least you don't have a full-on revolution waiting to happen.

Where it gets scary is when people's demands start coming from lower levels and keep heading down. Pretty soon, any chance of them operating on a higher level goes out the window as they have to spend cycles worrying about dumb stuff that once was a solved problem. Pretty soon they will have to reconsider the whole situation and maybe even find somewhere else to be.

Nomadic peoples had to give up on land when it flooded too often or otherwise became unsuitable. Employees should do the same when their company becomes toxic, unstable, and unfulfilling. If you aren't in the C suite, you have no chance of fixing things.

Give up and move on. Let them auger that baby into the ground without you. There are plenty of people who will be happy to hop on board and ride it down. You don't need to be one of them.