Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Be a Hero

A few years ago, the band The Script released the song “Superheroes”.  It was a great song with stories of people rising up against adversity.  Go have a listen here. It’s ok.  I’ll wait.

Rising up against adversity is inspiring.  Even heroic.  

But there is a more traditional aspect of “hero” that’s worth exploring – the traditional heroes of old-time comics and cheesy TV.  I’m talking about the heroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  These were the heroes that were always on your side.  Sometimes you didn’t even know that they were around, but they would magically appear just in the nick of time.  These heroes kept entire (fictional) cities feeling safe, feeling secure and feeling cared for. 

The superhero was always on our side.

As a superhero engineer (or Rockstar Engineer for that matter)… whose side are you on?

While you think about that let’s re-consider the measure of success as an engineer.  This is something talked about in many of the previous Rockstar Engineer posts.  For me the strongest measure of an engineer’s success is “influence”.  Whether it is influencing a design, influencing a team or even influencing the course of history – engineering is about influence.

Many engineers feel that the measure of their influence should be a mathematical consideration.  My boss should see that I did “x” and there for my reward should be “Y”.  It’s a simple matter of:  Y = f(x).   Period.

I’m not so sure about that.

Recently I was listening to a talk by Danny Meyer.  He’s the guy behind many of the highest customer-rated restaurants in New York.  When he evaluated the success of his restaurants he found that about 49% could be attributed to the mathematical or “service” stuff.  Did we make good food?  Did we serve it promptly?  He goes on to say that he attributes 51% of the success to something he calls “hospitality” – or in other words “Did the customer feel cared for?  Did the customer feel like we were on their side?”  (For extra credit, check out his book “Setting the Table”).

This is an amazing observation – more than half of the reason that people like a restaurant isn’t the food or service– it’s the way people feel they were treated.  He unpacks this further to say that missing on the 49% will cause people to leave.  Those make up the baseline.  Those are the things that are expected of you.  You must deliver on those.  However, the 51% is the stuff that makes people want to come back.  That's stuff that makes people give you high ratings.

Let’s personalize this to engineering.  You might have all the answers.  You might be able to solve the problems put in front of you.  You might have just come up with the greatest product design ever.  Great!  But that’s the 49%.  That’s what’s expected of you when you take the title "engineer".

How about the other 51%?  Do the people around you feel like you are the hero that is on their side?  What about your supervisor at performance review time?  Would they say that you are on their side?

Chances are pretty good that they are looking at the 51%.

Rock on.