Sunday, March 12, 2017

Make People Awesome? Give Them Superpowers!

We need to explain our primary statement of benevolence, expressed as "make people awesome." This is intended to express that have an explicit goal of benefitting specific others with all of our work.

I have had so many apologetic conversations about the term, and it's been described in several articles (some well, some rather poorly).

The message is singularly hard to express, at least in a form that fits on the sticker.

Admittedly, it's 2017. Everyone is on high alert, and words trigger people in dozens of interesting ways.

To date, the primary triggers are:
  1. "make people" - which tends to be heard as "coerce, demand, or force"
  2. "awesome" - which tends to be heard as "valley girl talk", indicating the speaker is bubble-headed or shallow.  

In any longer discussion, we eventually get around to Kathy Sierra's book.  "Badass: Making Users Awesome"  which was one of Josh's inspirations.  There were a few tailorings going on, but the idea was here.

We don't say "badass" because that, by itself, is sometimes used to describe someone who is forceful and violent.  I'd be surprised if Kathy S. has not had many clarifying discussions over that misinterpretation.

We also don't say "users" in our little slogan. We believe in an overarching benevolence.  We want to make users "awesome" of course, but we also want that benevolence to extend to our teammates, managers, support people, DevOps, QA, sales. We want it to extend to our customers' customers.

Some people take "make people awesome" to be a demand that managers of development teams behave a certain way toward their teams. We're not excluding that message, but suggestions that we change it to something like "get out of your team's way" restricts the message to micromanagers only, and not benevolence to all our community.

Sadly, some people take the whole statement to mean "demand that other people behave in a way that you see as awesome" -- very far from what we intend. We would have said "demand awesomeness from others" if we meant that.

Likewise "be kind" doesn't cover it.  We are not trying to "just be nice" but rather to give the people we deal with an extra measure of capability, awareness, competence, and power. We want them to be, properly "awe-inspiring" to the people they work and live around.

And now I've tripped over "awesome" at least twice.

Let me explain.  I found an old article I wrote describing software as super-powers.

The idea is that there are systems that help doctors avoid drug interactions while they are in the act of prescribing drugs. This has had a huge impact on the world. Patients have fewer complications, doctors have fewer lawsuits, hospitals have less workload due to drug interactions. Compared to pre-software-assist, doctors are impressively aware of interactions and up-to-date with new alerts because of software. That software is "making them awesome" in some regards.

The idea of making people awesome is just that - always be looking for ways to multiply other people's ability to be successful in their endeavors.

It doesn't matter if they're coding, testing, managing, performing medical services, nursing, hosting parties, supporting software systems, installing cable TV, cooking dinner, or editing podcasts. We can always be looking to "make people awesome" at the things they do for others.

I don't know that we'll always hold to the current phrasing. I would be okay with finding another way to say this that also fits on stickers and is easily memorable. In most ways, the current phrasing is fine, if only there weren't so many triggers to trip.