Monday 23 March 2009

Emotional Investment

A few years ago I was working for an internet startup. One of the developers there had a bit of a prickly temperament. He was fine if everything was going as he expected, if his efforts were noticed or rewarded, but when he had to fix other people's mistakes, or disagreed with decisions made by management team, he vented pure vitriol.

Some of the staff started to avoid dealing with him, the management team started wondering about his loyalty. His skills were never in doubt, but his attitude was causing problems. There are enough politics in a small startup without this kind of behaviour.

The problem was that he was taking it all too personally. He'd heavily invested emotionally into this business idea and wanted it to succeed, so when others made decisions he judged as incorrect, he took it as an affront to the extra effort and the time he'd poured in.

I know that's what the problem was, because a few years ago that guy was me. Luckily, I managed to snap out of that mindset before I got too bitter about things, or before got fired.

I am a perfectionist, and sometimes a bit of a control-freak because of that, coupled with my natural directness, you can imagine how I had reached that state of mind. The trouble is it's often hard to see it when you are there. The interesting thing for me is the number of times I've seen similar behaviour in others.

It's strange that over-commitment can result in such negative impacts. Emotionally based over-reacting can cause bad decisions.

In companies where the product is heavily dependant on the technical team (common in internet startups), it is easy to assume your opinion should carry more weight. But business decisions may often overrule - technical excellence alone won't stop a business from failing. The best you can hope for is that any advice you offer is considered. Those other departments exist because they are required to some degree. A successful company is a machine of many parts working together.

Being commited to what you're doing is important, but we need to remember that ultimately it is just a job. That can be hard to do when so many of us measure who we are by what we do. We're paid for the time we put in, that should be enough.