Genius Assholes

A coworker once told me that he would hire any amazing engineer, even if they are undeniably assholes. Having pondered this, it seems short-sighted. Sure, some people — engineers or other — are brilliant, super productive, and exceptional dicks.

Anybody willing to tolerate them is likely underestimating, or flat-out ignoring the effect they have on other people. One bad apple spoils the whole bunch, and so forth. Few things deplete energy and motivation faster than having to interact with mean, bitter people.

So they’re brilliant. Fine. Does it make up for bringing a dozen of their coworkers down, reducing their productivity as a result? Does it make up for the recursive effect that those coworkers’ spoiled moods then have on yet more people?

Nope.

The Engagement Responsibility

I grew up in France. I went to school there, where I developed a keen sense of criticism. One of my recurring complaints was this: We had textbooks, yet teachers made us transcribe their own paraphrased version of all the lessons. There I was, spending hours a day copying information I already had.

Over the years I became less and less motivated. At one time an allegedly bright student, my grades started to deteriorate. Eventually I was described as a slacker.

Now, teachers dedicate their lives to education. They’re meant to help us discover and reach our potential. We rely on them to produce well-adjusted, happy adults. We give them about 20 years of our lives… But for all that responsibility the only advice they ever gave me was “work harder.”

See, I thought being a teacher meant being responsible for teaching. They thought it meant dispensing information. Whether us students learned the material was of little concern.

Here’s the thing, “teachers:” If we don’t learn, you haven’t taught.

But I suppose I did learn something, albeit outside of the curriculum. Me, you, students, all people… We do our best work when we’re engaged. If you’re any kind of leader, a manager, a teacher… own that fact! Give your people the right to be engaged. When they’re not, see what you can change.

How Life360 Used Slack to Establish Its Company Values

I work at Life360, where 5 values drive decisions. Everyone there knows those 5 values. Not only that, anyone there can point out countless examples of those values put in practice. How? I’ll tell you.

For a while we used “high-5 cards.” Employees received actual physical cards. On each one we’d fill out the name of another employee and describe an awesome thing they’d done. Then we’d give them the card.

It worked, kinda. Giving and receiving high-5 cards felt awesome. But by 21st century standards, it was a laborious process. Real cards were printed and distributed on a schedule. People had to write, not type. The reward came long after the fact. And cards usually went to the people you worked closest to, over and over. The practice eventually died.

In the midst of this, we started using Slack—aka. IRC 2.0—as our main communication tool. Slack is great for a lot of reasons, and it has one notable feature called “emoji reactions.” React to a message with an emoji, it’ll appear below the message in question. Simple & easy. But here comes the best part.

It also works with custom emojis. And so we created 5 new emojis, one for each Life360 value.

medium_users.gifmedium_respect.gifmedium_excellence.gifmedium_accountable.gifmedium_big-swing.gif

Artwork by Amanda Clark.

Left to right: “Know Your Users,” “Respect,” “Commit to Excellence,” “Be Accountable,” and “Take Big Swings.”

Near everything we do gets discussed in a Slack channel. Including every value-driven decision and value-embodying action. When that happens, people now react with these value-emojis.

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Our Slack bot then reposts these messages to our #values channel.

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Deployed on February 2nd, our Slack bot has recorded over 300 value-reactions. That’s an average of 5 per work day for a team of 50 Slackers. It feels like values have become a routine part of conversations. It’s easier than ever to show appreciation. And extraordinary contributions are surfaced across teams and channels.

Well played, emojis. Well played.