“Extending Drucker’s metaphor, companies who take profit as their purpose are like people who think life is about breathing. They’re missing something.”
—Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline
When I was working from my parents’ house, I had a maxim scrawled on my whiteboard—I think it was “my job is to win hearts and minds”, but I don’t really remember. It doesn’t really matter. It was just one in a long line of mental anchors, things I wanted to keep in the forefront of my thoughts long enough for it to become a natural part of my thinking. Something I wanted to internalise. Upon returning to my desk one day, I saw my father’s handwriting off to one side: “he who dies with the most wins.”
I uncapped a marker and wrote “but is still dead” underneath. I left both there for some time.
I’ve always rejected the idea of money for money’s sake. I think the masturbatory idea that a company’s goal should be to accumulate as much wealth as possible is what destroys companies. I believe Peter Drucker’s maxim that money is like oxygen to a company; you need enough to breathe, but if your goal is to breathe as much as humanly possible, you’re probably doing it wrong.
That doesn’t make you a bad company for pursuing profit. It doesn’t mean that I think you’re an evil corporation if you’re driven by revenue. It just means I don’t really want to work for you. This isn’t an anti-capitalist screed, this is just a statement of personal goals.
Because I don’t measure my success by how much revenue I drive to a company’s coffers. I measure my success by how happy its customers are.
In my baby book (are those a thing? Like, does everyone know what those are? If you don’t, it’s just a book my parents wrote in and recorded landmarks in as I grew up) there’s an entry from when I was a baby (obviously): “Paddy loves to laugh!”
A couple of years later, another entry: “Paddy loves to make people laugh!”
I’ve always loved making people happy. It’s really important to me. Knowing people are happy, and especially knowing people are happy because of me, makes me really happy. And while I need to guard against letting that latter part overshadow the former, I think I could do worse when it comes to life goals.
That’s why my personal hall of heroes, the companies I hold close to my heart, the ones I aspire to be like, are the ones that focus on making people happy. They don’t blog about how to use metrics to drive revenue or engagement, they blog about how to use metrics to create a better experience. They believe that if you build something people love, the money will more or less take care of itself. They don’t run conferences that focus on professional development, they run conferences that focus on people. They treat the pursuit of happiness, for their employees and their customers, as the most sacred duty of a company.
I read about conferences and blogs and people who focus on using A/B testing to increase profit 800% or how charging more makes you more money or any number of topics that always seem to end with “and here’s how much more money I made!” and I just get sad. Not because I think these people are wrong; they’re usually brilliant people who are amazing at what they do, and what they do offers a very real value to a certain type of people. I am not trying to discredit their practices at all.
But they’re not for me. And as the world seizes the idea that software can make people lots of money very, very quickly, I fear it will be harder and harder to find people like me; people for whom the software and the experiences around it are the goal and the money a means, not the other way around.
I just want to make people happy.