Monday, May 7, 2018

Environment and Compatibility

There's a certain kind of thinking that can only be done in coffeeshops in the morning. Or maybe there's a kind of thinking that's just hard to do in the office, where the environment envelops me in a sense of duty. This morning, I picked up coffee to-go and came into the office early, falling back to what I've been doing my whole short career. There's still no one here, but the first hour and half became responding to emails and ticking off boxes, the type of things I can do in the minutes before bed. This small experience shows to me the impact of environment—even four walls with connotations, no people around, can do this. I've now put on Dave Brubeck and Coffitivity, which helps.

This reminds me of a related topic, that over the years I've come to believe a similar thing about jobs as relationships. W.r.t relationships, I have lost most of the inhibition to make the first move, because rejection does not hurt much anymore. (It will always hurt some.) This is ironically an outcome of being in several relationships (and other not-quite-relationships) that didn't work out, which made me realize that modern-day compatibility is incredibly hard and rare to find, and failure is not explicitly the fault of either of the two parties. Modern-day compatibility is strongly based on individual tastes. If someone rejects me, it's not my fault for not being attractive enough or their fault for not finding me attractive. As much as we like to think we are in control of ourselves, we can't force what we respond to, or on the flip side, dramatically change our personalities. It's in fact easier to change our looks.

Jobs are fit to a personality as well, which is often talked about in terms of entire professions, or big companies versus small companies. What I've seen is that even subtle differences among very similar situations make a big difference in how effective the same person is. I can say that for myself. I felt that at Facebook v. Pinterest, which are on the surface two large social networking companies, but the difference was more pronounced in tiny companies. After leaving 13-person Chorus, I felt I couldn't make a decision on another startup without working at them first, so I did brief contracting with four companies (sizes: 5, 13, 10-20, 4) before joining Instabase (4). It was surprising to me how at certain places, I felt—and I think, was—much more effective than at others. Same person, different types of work, different coworkers and company structures, different styles of communication.

I keep this in mind when recruiting. It makes me more empathetic when things don't work out, and makes me realize the resume and even pure technical interview is only a slice of what makes someone successful at a particular place. More broadly, I hope this mindset will become more common, so people do not view either being rejected in a relationship or being rejected by a company as categorical value judgements or measures of their self-worth. As with finding a fulfilling relationship, finding a fulfilling job is hard, and you should expect to fail a few times and get better at it over time.

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