Matthew Tift talks with James Sansbury and Matt Westgate about the history of Lullabot, building a team of Drupal experts, and moving away from the phrase "rock star." Ideas about "rock stars" can prevent people from applying to job postings, cause existing team members to feel inadequate, or encourage an attitude that doesn't work well in a client services setting. Rather than criticize past uses of this phrase, we talk about the effects of this phrase on behavior.

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This Episode's Guests

James Sansbury

James Sansbury
An experienced Drupal developer and architect himself, James manages Lullabot's back-end development team. He lives near Atlanta, GA and enjoys fishing, hiking, and camping.
Transcript

Transcript

Matthew Tift:
It's February, 2019. Episode 19, The Imaginary Band of Drupal rock stars. (Music)
Matthew Tift:
Hello, and welcome to Hacking Culture. I'm your host, Matthew Tift. This episode includes a transcript, so if you would like, you can read along at hackingculture.org/episode/19. The topic of this show is a topic that has received a great deal of attention lately, which is the so called "Drupal rock star." In April I will be presenting a paper at Drupal Con in Seattle entitled The Imaginary Band of Drupal Rock Stars. I've been presenting papers at academic and professional conferences for nearly 20 years. In that time I've learned about the importance of soliciting feedback before I give my talks.
Matthew Tift:
Today I am lucky enough to be joined by two of my colleagues at Lullabot. To start I'll introduce my boss, James Sansbury, a development manager at Lullabot. Like me, James has a degree in music. Unlike me, James used to have his own record label, which sounds pretty cool. James has a long list of accomplishments, including building one of the first decoupled Drupal websites. Welcome to Hacking Culture, James.
James Sansbury:
Yeah, thanks. I'm honored to be here.
Matthew Tift:
Excellent. Next I get to introduce the boss, as it were, Matt Westgate, who is the CEO and co-founder of Lullabot. He's the author of the book, Pro Drupal Development. Which incidentally was the first Drupal book I ever read. Hello, Matt.
Matt Westgate:
Hey Matt. How are you doing?
Matthew Tift:
I am doing great. I am excited to talk about this topic with you guys today, because whereas I often am living off in theoretical land, I'm interested in real world ideas about this particular topic. You guys have to deal with it on a real life kind of business. A real life kind of day, I guess I should say. I have a general idea about where this discussion might go, but I thought we might cover a few different topics first. I think we need to discuss the meaning of the phrase Drupal rock star to make sure we're all on the same page.
Matthew Tift:
I also thought we might talk a bit about this history of how and when the phrase rock star has been used at Lullabot. Third, I was thinking it would be interesting to learn more about why you have both made efforts to move away from using this phrase. I'm planning to do another episode that gets a bit more into the Drupal community and this phrase. Most of my questions will be connected to using this phrase as it's used to build a team of Drupal experts. Specifically I'm interested in what this phrase does. In other words, how does it affect our behavior? I don't have any interest in criticizing any particular use of this term.
Matthew Tift:
That's about all I have to say to get going. I think we can start now. I'd like to start of by saying that the term rock star is fairly recent in human history. Its first occurrence was in the May 9th issue of a Billboard magazine from 1960. If you look at a Google engram of the term without the space, just, "rockstar", one word, you'll see that that word has grown exponentially in the past two decades. The word has picked up quite a bit. But I'm interested trying to dig a little bit into what that word means.
Matthew Tift:
James, I'd like to start with you. Because you previously offered your own description of the phrase when you opened an issue for our internal Lullabot employee handbook. The title of that issue was to change the, "You are a rock star", to, "You are special". What you wrote, if you don't mind me quoting you, is that, "rock star language can be discouraging and intimidating to some. A rock star is often someone who is showy, preoccupied with their own image, and likes to be at the center of attention. Lullabot wants to foster fantastic teams of all sorts of people. Some that like the limelight, and others who support their team and our clients without necessarily drawing attention to themselves. Whether you feel like a rock star or not, you are special".
Matthew Tift:
James, do you still agree with James?
James Sansbury:
Turns out in this circumstance, which is rare, I do agree with past James.
Matthew Tift:
Well that's good.
James Sansbury:
Yeah. I had forgotten about that particular issue, because it has been some time since I opened that issue. But when you brought up this topic, it came back to memory. I think we had some rock star language even in our handbook. I don't recall the exact date when the issue was opened. But yeah, I don't even remember really what prompted it. I think I just stumbled across it while reading through the handbook, and then was at that time thinking about how some of the ways that Lullabot has portrayed itself has been intimidating. I didn't like that, because I knew at our heart it wasn't true. That at our heart, where Lullabot started from was wanting to help people and wanting to educate and be a part of the open source community, and give back. For us to all grow together.
James Sansbury:
That word, rock star, doesn't necessarily lend itself to that. Whether it's someone, you mentioned how certain words can shape our behavior. Whether that's happening for someone outside of Lullabot, or whether that's happening for someone that's an employee of Lullabot, I think that's true and interesting to look at.
Matthew Tift:
Yeah. I guess we could bring Matt in this conversation as well. Because part of the reason I asked him to be on is that we were recently on a company retreat. Matt, you were giving a State of Lullabot talk. My attention perked up a bit, because you had a slide that says, "I want Lullabot to be known as leaders, not rock stars and ninja". Whereas James substituted the word special, you used the word leaders. Why did you pick that word?
Matt Westgate:
Hoo boy, here we go.
Matthew Tift:
Oh yeah.
Matt Westgate:
Gosh, I don't know where to start with this. There's rock star, that word has a history at Lullabot. It also has a history within the tech community. There's this startup culture that sort of feels I think like, "Oh my god. We're doing amazing things. We're changing the world. We need a team of awesome amazing people. All of the rock stars out there, come work for us", you know?
Matt Westgate:
Part of that is reflective of the excitement that a company feels maybe when they're first starting. I think some of that was true for Lullabot. We started this company, and we're getting all this work. We're flying all these places. It was just like, "Who, this is ...". It was more of a reflection of how we sort of felt. Conveying the excitement that we had.
Matt Westgate:
We also had Jeff Robbins, right? Who was a co-founder and CEO of Lullabot for a while, who is an actual real life rock star in the most genuine and authentic sense of the term. When we used the term, I think we tried to use it for good. It was our intent. I think the problem is that it can be misleading. There's many meanings to rock stars. On one hand while it's like, "Wow. Let's do amazing things together", it can also, like James is saying, set unreasonable expectations for people. It can convey the wrong thing. Like if you have a team of rock stars, do you really have a team anymore?
Matt Westgate:
I think as we've gotten along, we've been able to better define what we meant by rock star in the beginning, that we can use better words now. People who care about their craft. People who are willing ... I imagine if we actually changed it, like if we could go back then and we needed to have some sort of musical reference, we would probably say, "Calling all talented studio musicians". You know? Because we're actually looking for people that know how to work with each other and that know how to listen. Know how to riff off each other. It's much more clear of what we're looking for.
Matt Westgate:
I sort of see that as the evolution of us sometimes. Matthew, I think I have successfully dodged the original question that you asked me.
Matthew Tift:
Perfect. Well, I started with the hardest possible question, didn't I? "Justify this word".
Matt Westgate:
The leaders. Oh, the latest state of the company, yeah. In that presentation that we had in January about a month ago, I said, "I want Lullabot to be known as leaders, not rock stars or ninjas". Gosh, even leadership can be a loaded word, doesn't it? It can mean, leadership, there's many different types of leadership. Actually what I went on to say is that I'm looking for three qualities of leadership at Lullabot. I used the words courage, include, and give, as the leadership traits that I wanted us to hone in on for this year.
Matt Westgate:
Courage was the ability to speak up. To speak from your heart. To speak authentically. To try and make a situation better. Include was basically to amplify all the gifts and the benefits that one has received in their life, and to bring other people into that. I think leadership is about including others and helping them realize their potential. Then give, you know? The ability to find ways to give of your time. To give of your resources. To lift people up.
Matt Westgate:
I feel like over the years we've just been able to better define what it is we're looking for, and it's also changed. The joy that we get isn't, a lot of us have families now and it's not about, "All right. Here we go. Another airplane adventure". You know? That stuff is like, "No". We care about the work that we do. We care about the relationships that we have. We want to bring people in that are looking for those same types of things. Not about jet setting around the world so much anymore.
Matthew Tift:
You referenced Jeff Robbins, who we heard playing in the intro. There is definitely that history with Lullabot. We can get back to that a little bit more. But it sounds like there, just to kind of set the stage, there are lots of different words that we could use to describe the people we want to work with. There area also different reasons for why we would choose those. We could say we're looking for virtuosos or celebrities or heroes or luminaries or stars or superstars, prodigies or legends. But somehow it seems like when you're running a business, you have to settle on something, because you have to write job descriptions. You have to have these words in the handbook.
Matthew Tift:
But I think one of the interesting parts of this is, there's a real disconnect from trying to choose a word to describe the kind of people you want to meet, or you want to work with. Or like you were just saying, Matt, it's more complex than that. You've said there's at least three other characteristics that we're looking for.
Matthew Tift:
But both of you must have some sort of conception of this word, rock star, as an idea that we kind of move away from. Do you think of this as solving a problem? Or just as sort of, it did sound a bit like you were saying it's more like an evolution. That word worked for us for a while. But now we're moving to, are we sort of going in a different direction? Or are we just doing a better job of describing what we've been doing?
James Sansbury:
I'll say as a manager and working with employees of Lullabot, I do think it solves a problem that I've seen over the years. In that we have a couple problems that I've seen over the years. One is that when we're hiring, there are people that are intimidated by even applying at Lullabot. I think some of that is because of this perception that they're not good enough to work at Lullabot, which I don't think is true. I do strongly believe that we ... The reason that I chose the word special is because I do think that we all have our own unique gifts.
James Sansbury:
What inspires me is when there are teams working together, and you have all of these gifts coming together. Coming together in such a way that the sum of the parts is greater. Like that everyone's adding something. This is actually what's so inspiring to me about music. Ironically bringing it back to me in what really got me into music and got me into a degree in music, was the excitement that I felt when I was in a band, and you're playing with musicians. Someone else plays something, and that steps up my own playing. Hearing something that someone else is playing inspires me to play better. Or makes me think of something that maybe I wouldn't have thought of. That sort of building each other up sort of a thing, and everybody's bringing their own sound to whatever we may be playing.
James Sansbury:
What's ironic about that is that the word rock star, for me, has very different connotations than that. I think when I go to see a rock show, and there's usually a front person that I think of. Like, "Oh, there's the rock star. There's the person that's grabbing the limelight". What's often lost is, "Wow. There was a lot of work behind all of this huge show. Look at the bass guitarist. They're back in the background, but they are doing something so subtle. Setting the tempo or whatever it may be, or the groove, at such a subtle level that nobody's picking up on. Working with the drummer, or that sort of stuff".
James Sansbury:
I think bringing it back to Lullabot and that particular problem, from the external. When people look and think, "Oh. These people are all, I could never work there because I don't have what it takes", and realizing that, or trying to change the language that we're using that might be giving people the perception they they're quote unquote unworthy or something like that to even be able to apply.
James Sansbury:
Secondarily to that, internal to Lullabot once people are actually working here, I've noticed that there's this sort of self doubt. That, "Somebody's going to find me out. That I'm not, I don't have what it takes". I've struggled with this in the past myself. This, "Do I need to continue to prove myself to my co-workers that I've got what it takes? Or create this false identity that I can hide behind so people don't find out that I really don't know what I'm doing? I don't want to ask certain questions". That's dangerous.
James Sansbury:
It's dangerous on many levels. I don't think it's healthy for the individual. But then I also don't think it's healthy for the company. Because then we're not asking those hard questions. We're not, people aren't able to feel, like going back to what Matt Westgate was saying, having the courage to say, "Wait a minute. Why are we doing this?". Or, "What if we did this?". If people aren't feeling confident enough that they're in a safe enough place to ask questions or to throw out their ideas, and that they won't be shamed or laughed at or all of those different things.
James Sansbury:
Kind of the external and the internal. Those two problems. I do think being careful with our language. We may in five years look at the word leader or the word special and be like, "Ugh, that has all these connotations associated with it now that aren't healthy for who we are". I do think, going back to what you were saying, there may be an iterative thing about it too that's not necessarily solving a problem. But it is solving, I think, some things for where we are right now and what these words mean to us right now.
Matt Westgate:
Yeah. For instance, it's not rock star anymore. But I don't understand why someone would refer to me as a metric unit of measure.
James Sansbury:
Where does that happen?
Matthew Tift:
What?
Matt Westgate:
A liter. L-I-T-E-R. Oh boy.
James Sansbury:
Oh man.
Matt Westgate:
Oh boy. Okay. Well all right. James, to add to your, to riff on what you were saying. Not only can people feel intimidated or have imposter syndrome once they get into a company. The other thing is, they may not apply at all. That could also be shutdown language. Because oftentimes, even rock star communicates like, for some companies there's those filler words. Like rock star, guru, ninja, wizard. You know? All of those things. It's like, either this company's trying to be cool and compensate for a culture they don't have, or they really want somebody that they're just going to work to the bone. "If I go there, I won't be valued. They're just going to squeeze everything out of me that I have".
Matt Westgate:
There's also this whole thing of preventing people from applying. Because you're using filler words, because maybe you don't really know what you're asking for. But the impact of that is, you're actually communicating a lack of clarity from the hiring process to begin with. That's a whole other aspect of this that I think can happen.
James Sansbury:
Yeah, that's true. Another thing I was thinking as you were talking about that, Matt. Lullabot is primarily client services, is the majority of our business. Thinking about, once we do have, if I as a developer am thinking, "I'm a rock star developer. Let me go work for this client over here". Coming into that relationship with that mentality is not what we want either. We don't want to come into a service relationship with us thinking we've got all the answers. That's not going to be helpful for our client. At a very basic level it's not going to set up a good relationship.
James Sansbury:
But also, if we're coming into that work that way, we're going to have huge blind spots. Because we're going to think that, "Oh. We've got this figured out. We've done this before". We're not going to realize, "No. This is a unique, our client has a unique problem and we need to come in with open eyes and with a humility".
James Sansbury:
I was thinking about, what if in another service industry, what if you went to a restaurant and everybody there had these name tags like, "I'm a rock star server". They just came, and they just wanted to melt your mind. It's like, that's not what I went to this restaurant for. I wanted to sit down and have a conversation with my spouse or my partner, and be catered to. For that to fall into the background. I think that's what having that five start restaurant experience, we want to be there for our clients in the services that we're doing, and not have it be about us and our egos or something. Be about, "How can we make you succeed at what you're doing? How can we make your work and your process more efficient, and really come in and create something great together?".
Matthew Tift:
That's interesting that you mentioned another industry. Because there was a study in 2017, at the end of 2017. Indeed did a year in review that focused on weird job titles that were growing in popularity. They said that the rising star of 2017 was, appropriately enough, rock star, which has shown 19 percent growth since 2015 and finished first. In other words, the term rock star is on the rise. People are using it for all kinds of random job descriptions.
Matthew Tift:
Some people have interpreted that to say that sometimes we just want to make a job sound more interesting than it is, so we're going to throw a weird word on it. I think that's an easy thing to understand, why somebody would do that. Like, "Oh, let's make this job sound interesting". But it's also interesting to me that as this word has grown in popularity, it sounds like Lullabot's starting to say, "Whoa. Maybe it's not quite the right word for us".
Matt Westgate:
I'm just imagining a rock star waiter coming and lighting my salad on fire.
James Sansbury:
I guess there is a sense of that at like Hibachi or something. Where it does feel a little bit like, "Wow. This person's going to wow me".
Matt Westgate:
That might be a legitimate use of the phrase, rock star waiter. You're going there for a meal and entertainment.
James Sansbury:
I was -
Matt Westgate:
Onion volcanoes.
James Sansbury:
Onion volcanoes, that's right.
Matthew Tift:
There's another funny article. Well, it had a funny phrase in it. The New York Times had an article titled, How rock star Became A Business Buzzword. The author said, "When we talk about rock stars, that doesn't actually mean that we're looking for a front end developer who is addicted to heroin and who bites the heads off doves in conference rooms".
Matt Westgate:
Yep.
Matthew Tift:
That's what people hear sometimes when you use that word. I guess, I feel like we've done a pretty good job of sort of highlighting what it is that we're talking about. Maybe the three of us sort of agree in principle that there isn't some definable thing or person who is always already a rock star. That at least for the purposes of this discussion, we're talking about sort of a complex assemblage of people that are working together that have to get jobs done. That sometimes we want to work with somebody who comes up with really creative solutions, and other times we just need people to kind of, you know, get stuff done.
Matthew Tift:
When we all can work together, that je ne sais quoi is the thing that we want. That's really cheesy. I mean, does that sort of sound like a reasonable summary of what we're talking about then? We're talking about people that are working well together. We're not talking about a bunch of geniuses or individuals or crazy people who just always have fun and do whatever they want.
James Sansbury:
Yeah.
Matt Westgate:
Yeah, and I think early on when we used that phrase, we were trying to capture, like if I had to summarize, we were trying to capture the excitement that we felt in our work. There was this part of, "Holy moly. I can't even believe this is happening. This is actually, people want to work with us. This is amazing". In that perspective it was like, "Woo, yeah. This is working. Let's hire all our friends in the Drupal community".
Matt Westgate:
But we also needed to hire the experts in the Drupal community, because we were sort of pushing Drupal to the forefront back in 2006. We had this phrase, rock star, to sort of capture how we were feeling, and the rock stars of the Drupal community. The people that were pushing the boundaries and stuff. Over time I think it's just changed, you know? There's a lot of people that know Drupal now. There's a lot of Drupal work that's out there.
Matt Westgate:
We're also sort of realizing more about the relationships that we have with each other and with our clients. rock star doesn't fit who, rock star doesn't fit our culture as much anymore. It's not just one person going into a project like it was in the early days. It's a team of people, and we still are looking for talented individuals who are also able to leave their ego at the door. It's time for new words.
Matthew Tift:
Just to add, the other layer of complexity here that I think is relevant is, you mentioned 2006. That was the year when Lullabot launched MTV UK. Literally a site for rock stars. Our clients have included lots of music industry folks with sort of ties to real life rock stars. Like the Recording Academy, or maybe -
Matt Westgate:
Selling music.
Matthew Tift:
Yeah. Sony, the National Association of Music Merchants. We have a ton of actual connections to rock star clients. It seems like that must have had some impact on that.
Matt Westgate:
Sure, yeah. There was a lot of talented musicians in Lullabot as well. I don't know how to play an instrument, but I respect the people who are able to do that. I mean, all that stuff feeds into it. But I think just over time we can add clarity to what we're looking for. At the beginning, using a catchall phrase like rock star too is that, I think you said the sprinkling, or the je ne sais quoi.
Matt Westgate:
Like, "I don't quite know what it is. But maybe, this is as close as I can get to it". Now, maybe we can better define what we're looking for. We can see the patterns and pull out the language and the attributes of the people that we're looking for, and hopefully make people feel safer when they apply too. Then when they do apply, not have them be intimidated because they don't feel like the rock star that they're supposed to be.
Matthew Tift:
I suppose we could also be clear too. That if you go to lullabot.com you're going to find the word rock star in quite a few places. Back in 2011, or I wasn't there, but Lullabot sent Webchick, Angie Byron, on what was described as a rock tour, I think. It had, she had a logo that looked a little bit like Metallica. We still have developers that have the word rock star in their profiles. Do you kind of look at the rock star tour and think, "You know what? We probably won't do that anymore"? But not necessarily looking back on that and saying it's a bad thing. But it's just, we're going to describe it more differently. That long history, I'm just kind of curious as to how we both say, "This is the past, and this is where we're going".
Matt Westgate:
Yeah, that's tough. I mean the shadow of something like that is people feel like, "Oh. I could never be like Angie Byron. She's a rock star". People could see it as a distancing thing. That wasn't the intent at all. A lot of the intent was like, "Angie Byron is amazing", and we really wanted to lift her up and celebrate her.
Matt Westgate:
Going on, we called it The Webchick Tour, where Angie was just, we booked some venues and we would go around and teach people about Drupal, and really share our passions with the community. We wanted to have fun with it too. She's such an amazing person, that we just really wanted to celebrate what she did for the community and how she brought everybody in.
Matt Westgate:
When you are near Angie, she's one of the most humble, approachable human beings on the planet. People could realize instantly that she wasn't the kind of rock star that didn't have time for people, or wanted to be in center stage. That was sort of the last place she waned to be. But we did have a lot of fun promoting it, and I hope that we didn't make anybody feel excluded in the event. That certainly wasn't the intent.
Matthew Tift:
Yeah, I think that comes through pretty strongly. I guess some of the other things you guys had mentioned did have a sort of personal note with me. I remember when I, actually it was James who first sort of recruited me to Lullabot. I remember having that exact feeling. "Me? Really? That would be cool". But I have some very sort of personal reflections on that. I do think that this idea of kind of moving away from that label, and some of the other connotations that it has, could be beneficial. Not just for theoretical reasons, but for how it affects real people's lives.
Matthew Tift:
I think also to get to the part about moving away from the rock star label and some of the issues that brings with it. We still are working with people who, maybe they are active in free software communities. Where the number one rule literally is often, "Scratch your own itch". That doesn't really fit well with the rock star mentality.
Matthew Tift:
James, when you're managing a team of developers who scratch their own itch, is there a way that we can capture this idea of finding creative solutions, but also we have to get our job done too? How do you deal with that on a day to day basis? Or is that not really something you have to deal with much?
James Sansbury:
You know, that scratch your own itch thing, I don't know that it comes to play a lot in our client services work. But it does in the open source work that's tangentially connected to it. Because I think there are times when, the balance becomes tricky when we are presented with a problem on a client project that we can see, "Well I can solve this once for our client. Or I can solve it in perhaps a more abstract way, and somebody else can benefit from it". I think coming back to our core values as a company, of that, "Collaborate openly", we tend to hire people that share that core value personally.
James Sansbury:
The challenge can become balancing the tension between, "Well we need this project to be done at a certain time in a certain budget", and, "So and so wants to really do this the right way and be able to share it back with the community, which is going to take longer". I don't know if that's really answering your question, but I do see that some of that can be a sort of scratch your own itch balance that we need to take on a case by case and project by project basis.
James Sansbury:
A lot of times our clients share that value with us as well. Where they're a part of Drupal because they see the value of sharing code with a larger community, and not maintaining their little snowflake website, or big snowflake website. Whatever the case may be. A lot of times we'll be, "Okay. We recognize that if we can dedicate a couple extra weeks to this, that we can have something that we can give back to the community, and then the community can also help make better". It's kind of, it creates a win win situation.
Matt Westgate:
Yeah. Going back 12 years ago when we first used that term, rock star, we were also communicating, I mean we were working all the time. We were just working working working. During the day, during the night, on the weekends. Sort of, the work that we were doing was everything. rock star was communicating that we were just a startup, and we need everybody to go at it hard. We would do client projects and then go do workshops. We would even do client projects during the workshops. It was just a ton of work. I was writing the Pro Drupal book. We were launching MTV.co.uk. I mean it was just nonstop.
Matt Westgate:
rock star captured some of that intent too of, it's all go all the time. We're all older now. We have limited energy. We've got families. We've grown up as a community. Even, it's getting a little bit harder, you see his shift happening in the Drupal camps. Of people being a little more hesitant to attend on the weekends now. Because they're going to miss some event with their kids and stuff like that. People are even thinking about maybe moving Drupal camps to the weekdays.
Matt Westgate:
But how this relates back to the scratch your own itch is, now we look at it in a place of, "We want you to come here. Do great work. But then also have time for your other contributions. The other things that you're passionate about. The other interests that you have". We try to be really conscientious about that. We seldom work on the weekends, we seldom work in the evenings, to make time for scratching your own itch.
Matt Westgate:
But also, if there are things that people are passionate about, we try to see if there's places that that can connect within the company as well. But it's a whole different perspective altogether, you know? It's more trying to make space for those things, rather than trying to have your work be the only thing that brings you passion and joy, and the only place you put your effort in.
Matthew Tift:
That's really interesting to me. That in some sense you're saying there are aspects to that term that were more true when the company started, that maybe aren't so true. That in addition to just not wanting to necessarily run away from a term, but also just admitting that, "Well yeah. Maybe there were aspects of that term that fit better back then. But now we're going to describe something slightly different". A bigger organization that, there's lots of people with families, and a lot more people that are, this is their living now. This isn't just their hobby.
Matt Westgate:
Yeah. I think the biggest cultural shift for us was that Lullabot has, and this is true of other companies too. But companies operate on a set of core values. You know? Core values or core beliefs. Oftentimes if you want to look at the culture of an organization, you have to look to the leadership. Whatever the leadership is thinking about, however the leadership is behaving, or what the leadership wants, tends to be the culture of an organization. But you look at those values, and we realized, I mean this is going to sound super, I'm even embarrassed to say this. But we realized that Lullabot, it isn't everything to everyone for our employees.
Matt Westgate:
At first it was just all the company stuff all the time. But then we realized that really, what the company can do is offer a platform to help other people accomplish their own desires and goals and dreams and stuff too. Instead of thinking that it had to be everything to everyone, people can use the company as a platform to be continue to create the things that they're passionate about. Whether it's just as simple as getting a paycheck, or whether there's a way of aligning a project that someone is personally interested in. It's sort of a more, it's a much healthier approach to where we're at. I hope I'm communicating clearly the difference between now and before.
Matthew Tift:
That makes sense to me. An interesting coincidence was, this morning I got an email. My annual performance review, what the rest of the world calls it I think is a performance review. That's not what we call it. That's another story. But the first question on there is, "What do you totally rock at?". I saw that, paused for a second. Then I thought, "You know what? I think that question is okay". I think, it's not like we don't want people who are totally rocking at something. But I don't know, maybe that's not the right question. James, do you think that question is going to continue to show up on my annual performance review questionnaire?
James Sansbury:
There's a few questions that I end up rewording. But that one I usually read verbatim. I think, it's interesting. I don't know. I'll have to reflect on that some more. But I agree with you. I think that there are ways that we quote unquote rock at things that are, and the point of these reviews for us is to celebrate those things. Maybe we're using language that's intimidating, and I think the question is uncomfortable for a lot of people to answer at Lullabot.
James Sansbury:
But I think that's okay. Perhaps there's a way we could word it better that would make it more comfortable. I know I have worded it differently in the past, but I can't remember how I've worded that question. But at any rate, I want people to lean into the awkward a little bit and reflect back on their year as a part of that question, and bring to mind some of those things that they're really proud of that they've accomplished. Or be able to appreciate the character traits and the work habits that they have from the past year. For us to cherish that stuff together.
James Sansbury:
Maybe that doesn't, the rock, "What have you been rocking at?", doesn't always categorize that very well. But it's still, it works I think.
Matthew Tift:
Yeah. I think there's something about that question that hints at a certain playfulness. That, you don't see people asking you questions like that. That's maybe one of the benefits of the phrase rock star. That there is definitely a playfulness. Matt, you're talking about those early days and working a lot. But it was also a whole lot of fun. That part of it, that's not something that we're ready to let go of. I mean at least in this case, this is, if I'm interpreting things correctly, we still want to have fun. That's still one of the core values of Lullabot, right?
Matt Westgate:
Yeah, definitely. I think you can capture ... I think you hit the nail on the head with the playful spirit of it. "What do you totally rock at? What do you feel this year you've been doing that's just been going awesome? That's been great? What are you most proud of?". When we ask people that question on their review, "What do you totally rock at?", they don't say, I don't know, the negative connotations of a rock star or something like that. It's all things that, when they reflect back on the year, it's their accomplishments, right? That's the big thing.
Matt Westgate:
Yeah, there is a playful spirit of it. I think what happens is that just rock star, that phrase can create ambiguity. Because there's positive connotations and negative connotations. I would like to think that we were more on the positive side. But I can also understand someone on the outside looking in seeing that phrase and just being completely turned off by it too. You know? Not knowing which way, the one it's going to go. "Is this a company that's going to work me to the bone? Or are they actually saying that they want to look me up and celebrate my strengths and amplify those?". It's not always clear.
Matt Westgate:
I get why sort of the job applicant group in general I would imagine tends to be turned off by those phrases that really don't describe anything about the job. I think there's probably an industrial shift that needs to happen there to better define the applications. Unless you are actually looking for rock star waiters and, you know? Things that actually may be appropriate.
Matthew Tift:
I used to be a singing waiter.
Matt Westgate:
Really? Now there's what the podcast should be about.
Matthew Tift:
Yeah, I could start breaking out into Italian love songs.
Matt Westgate:
Do you have an example of that, Matt?
Matthew Tift:
No. I don't. Not today.
Matt Westgate:
All right.
Matthew Tift:
I guess that's about it for questions. I wondered if you guys had anything else that has maybe come to mind, or other points that you wanted to make? But I think we have quite thoroughly examined this issue from a bunch of different perspectives. Are there other perspectives that I'm missing? Other things that I should be looking at before I give my talk?
Matt Westgate:
I will say that, like you Matt, we are all still learning. These are our perceptions over the years. But if your listeners have different connotations or have been impacted by this directly one way or another, we would love to have that feedback. Because this is all on the inside looking out. There's people out there that are still looking for a job right now and coming across this on a daily basis. How do they feel? What are the things that we're missing here that we should be mindful of too? For you going into your talk as well.
Matthew Tift:
That's a great idea. How do you recommend somebody share that story?
Matt Westgate:
Well if they're a rock star what they need to do is ... No, I'm kidding. I don't know. Whatever channels that you prefer. Whether it's on Twitter, tweeting at you. Or comments, or shooting us an email. However you best prefer.
Matthew Tift:
Oh, sure. Yeah, they should send the comments to me. That could, we don't need to fill your email inbox. Please email me at matthew@hackingculture.org, or tweet my way @matthewtift, or @hackingculture. Advertisement over. James, do you have anything else that you would like to add?
James Sansbury:
I guess an apology if this still comes across as Lullabot naval gazing. Because I don't, that's definitely not our heart. I don't want it to be like, "Lullabot's talking about how they don't want to talk about themselves all the time", or something like that. You know? I think we're just learning and trying to grow, so I agree with Matt. That if you have feedback in that respect, we would definitely love to hear from you.
Matthew Tift:
Well I think that is a pretty good point, actually. I thought quite a bit about that before I asked you guys to come on here. Because of that potential naval gazing issue. But when I look at the facts, I see a company that has somebody who, a founder who was literally a rock star. Our earliest biggest clients were in the music industry, who sent somebody on a rock star tour. One thing after another, where this word has been used.
Matthew Tift:
But I think what we're doing today is to try and clarify maybe intentions, and clarify what we're trying to do going forward. To me, that doesn't seem like naval gazing. That says we're recognizing what's going on, and we acknowledge that there's problems to this. That there are maybe people who have been actually affected by words that we just thought were playful. The way I'm looking at it is, we're not saying necessarily that this is a problem and that we need to change it and do this other thing. But we're trying to acknowledge the complexity of the situation. That's my take. Does that seem true to you?
James Sansbury:
I hadn't thought about it that way, but I like that.
Matt Westgate:
Yeah, and companies change. You know? Values change. Not the values, but the way that we work changes too, and the kind of things that are important to us change over the years. If there's an opportunity to speak more clearly, I think we all want to do that. We can't do that without continued feedback from the community as well. It's also how we grow. It's, I don't know, it's a good opportunity.
Matthew Tift:
Great. Well thank-you guys both so much for coming onto the show. This has been a very informative show to me. I'll be talking to you both soon.
Matt Westgate:
Thanks, Matthew.
James Sansbury:
Yeah, thanks.
Credits:
Thank you for listening to this episode of Hacking Culture. You can learn more about this show and subscribe at lullabot.com/hackingculture. Please follow @hackingculture and @matthewtift on Twitter. This episode is released under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Hacking Culture is produced at Lullabot. The theme music is from the Open Goldberg Variations. Thank you for listening.

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