So, Are We Compatible?

Finding the right company to work with, I realize, is often very similar to finding the right life partner. Frighteningly so, in fact.

Parallels include the high hurdle of getting into a prestigious company compared with that of getting a popular person of the opposite sex; how cold calls to these companies usually don’t work because there’re simply too many of them, and how the same can be said of men/women who have been bombarded with flirty messages; and how knowing the right person gets you easy entry into a popular company as well as the good books of a popular person of the opposite sex.

The above examples aside, today I’m going to talk about the question of responsibility.

At work, as with in life, we make mistakes. There’s no way around this fact, because we’re all flawed individuals. The key is to act in an appropriate manner when mistakes are made, and that often marks the difference between individuals. (Note that I’m trying not to tell you which approach is right and which wrong, though I have a strong bias towards what I think is the correct approach.) And in my opinion, people and teams who deal with mistakes in different ways will do better not to be together. I.e. there is a fundamental compatibility issue that can’t be resolved.

Take for example a company. Any company, regardless of its size. Your company, for example. Then imagine someone—you don’t know who—made a mistake and screwed things up. And you’re somewhat tied to this screw up. How would you react?

I know for a fact that in some companies, the first thing people do is to start fending off responsibilities and playing the blame game. “It’s not me, I was out meeting a client/working on a separate branch/(insert alibi here)!” “It’s Ben, he was the last person to have talked to the customer/to have committed the code/(insert accusatory reason here)!”

I personally think that’s a very sad reaction to mistakes made. On the other hand, though, I think I can imagine why they act the way they did. In all likelihood, it’s because of the culture that has been fostered in such companies because these companies spend a lot of effort tracking down the owners of mistakes and penalizing them for it, people are—understandably, perhaps—inclined to first defend themselves.

Are you working in such a company?

I’m really glad I don’t, and I have probably only worked in one so far. I don’t think it’s because I’m lucky, it’s more like that my sensitivity to such companies often led me to stay away from them. In most of the companies I’ve worked with so far, the general reaction to mistakes is to solve them. Quick. Coz who cares who made the mistakes to begin with when the pressing issue is to correct them? And who cares who made the mistake since most of us make mistakes? (Like someone smart once said, the only person who doesn’t make mistakes is someone who doesn’t make anything. I don’t want to be that someone, for sure.) And afterwards, if we happen to know who did it, we’ll simply tease the person a little and laugh it off. After which, business as usual.

Imagine a newbie who comes to my company and spends ten minutes yelling,”It’s not me! I didn’t do it!” and trying to prove his innocence when something bad happens. We’re just gonna shake our heads and ignore him while trying hard to save the fire. And this newbie surely isn’t going to leave a good impression, because instead of doing something to help out, he’s simply wasting energy on what cannot be reversed.

Now imagine if I join a company that focuses on mistakes and where people spend much of their time defending themselves when a screw up happens. I’m going to be so frustrated because there I was, working hard to salvage the situation, when the rest of the team simply stand around pointing fingers and penning email-theses defending themselves.

The same can be said of finding the right partner.

A long time ago, I was working with an attractive girl on a project. Well, I said she’s attractive, so clearly I was interested. But when there was a minor hiccup and I pointed it out, attractive girl’s first reaction was not to think about what should be done to deal with it, but to start defending herself, “It’s not me! It’s XXX!”

Such a turn-off.

I imagine a woman who likes to get her hands dirty and solve problems as they come is likely going to be disappointed too, if all her man does in a crisis is to evade responsibility.

On the other hand, I imagine a couple who loves playing the blame game might just be very happy together. Each time something wrong happens, they’d simply team up to attack others in their defense. Couple bonding at its best, I’m sure.

Anyway. Conclusion: find the right partner or company for yourself by making sure you handle issues of responsibility in the same way. Otherwise, life is going to be pretty painful for you.