Mar 092015

I had an amazing week. I didn’t plan it. I was exhausted. Physically drained. Stretched beyond breaking mentally. Emotionally checked out. I took a week off (nobody objects when you forget to use your vacation for a year). The kids were in school. My wife had a full week of volunteering and her other regular activities attend to. I took a week to recover, to get my “A game” back.

On Friday, Anthony from Solid Iris reached out to me to collaborate on my 3D Visualization of my kitchen remodel. If you’ve been paying attention this week, you’ve seen the results of that discussion. This isn’t about that. Not really.

I’ve been an open source developer for 15 years and contribute to some of the largest, most diverse, and most successful collaborative software development projects on the planet (e.g. Linux and the Yocto Project). Working with people I’ve never met from all around the world isn’t new to me. But after all that, it was still exciting for someone I’d never met to see my work, recognize a common interest, and reach out to collaborate.

In my discussion with Anthony, I learned a bit about Solid Iris. He reminded me of something I had learned a long time back. When I joined IBM in 2003, I asked the director of the Linux Technology Center, Dan Frye, about avoiding layoffs (I don’t know why I asked that). He told me two things: Work on a critical project, Don’t be a slug. Solid Iris is a small company of eight people. EIGHT PEOPLE. With passion, talent, vision, and commitment, these eight people created a remarkable product and are passionately shouting about it to the world. There is only one project, so *critical* doesn’t really cover it. In a small team, there is no room for slugs.

But this isn’t about Solid Iris. This isn’t even explicitly about me. What this experience reminded me, is that to excel, to do something truly remarkable, there is no room for slugs. There is no room for second priority. I have worked to make sure I am working on critical projects and have tried my damnedest not to be a slug. In that self-focused effort I neglected the other half of the equation.

(Note: I hope this goes without saying, but just in case, and for those who don’t know me well, I want to make it clear that I am *NOT* referring to my immediate team, who I absolutely love working with)

To ensure your efforts are multiplied by your colleagues and partners, they have to share your passion, your drive, your vision, and your commitment. They may not all be rock stars, but they have to be willing eager to learn and to improve. If they aren’t, you’ll be looking back to drag them forward, against their will, instead of looking ahead toward your goals.

When things go wrong, the human response is to find someone to blame. Lauren recently pointed me to Brené Brown’s short on blame versus accountability. My apologies in advance to Brené as I’ll be taking this in a slightly different direction. It’s easy to blame those you’ve been dragging along. I’ve been guilty of this. More than once. It’s easy to let things go, to avoid the discussion that needs to happen, and then cast blame. Let the dysfunction build, then burst, then build again, in an endless cycle of frustration and mediocrity. This is death for a small independent group, but can go unchecked in a large organization.

What’s hard, is holding people accountable. It requires you to have the hard conversations. Accountability goes both ways, and you’re not immune. Accountability is proactive, rather than passive. Accountability can end the cycle.

Holding people accountable is a forcing function. We can’t continue in a non-compliant state. We can course correct, or we can part ways. Either way, we are all better off. Hold yourself and those around you accountable. Strive for excellence, refuse mediocrity. Don’t be a slug, and don’t let them hold you back.

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