Three quick stories and a quest
I got an email from someone last week saying they had a project I’d be perfect for.
They described the project and wanted me to know how much they had budgeted for it. It was a big number but not nearly big enough for their project.
The project was interesting and it was possible that I could be right for the job so we set up a call. I told them I thought their budget was low. Don’t worry, they assured me, that’s just for phase 1. (I could be misremembering - they may have used roman numerals - it could have been Phase I)
I asked who this project was for and they were vague about it. OK. Still worth listening to.
They called. Late. On a phone with a bad connection. And asked me to describe my background.
Yeah. I was mostly done with them at that point but I continued to listen.
The project was for two undergrads who had an idea for a business and thought that Apple’s lack of documentation and the community’s exasperation with the situation made for a business opportunity.
The shortcomings of the Dev pubs group - despite being staffed by really smart and capable people - has supported many of us who write books, websites, and provide training. It’s why many of us reach out to the group now and then offering to help.
But this project wasn’t for me. The type of material that I am good at writing was not what they were looking to produce. I thanked them but said it wouldn’t be a good fit.
I appreciate a quick “no” and the person at the other end of the phone seemed to too.
They asked me think if any of my colleagues might be interested and if so, could I send any their way.
I was about to say yes when they added, “we have a lot of money that we’re just waiting to give to them.”
In the five days since our call I didn’t receive a “thanks for your time” email.
That’s story number one.
In this story, I don’t think the other person knew the impact of the words they chose or understood what might be wrong with their behavior. I don’t think there was any bad intent.
In the dark
This is a story from my youth.
A friend of mine’s dad got a new job in Brooklyn.
The parents went out and found a house and returned to pack up their house and prepare for the move.
They put their three kids in the car and drove the nine hours to their new house - arriving after dark.
The parents woke the kids, unlocked the front door, reached inside to flip on the light switch.
The flipped on another light - still nothing.
The previous owner had unscrewed every light bulb in the house and taken it with them.
That’s story number two.
I don’t think the previous owner gave a thought to those moving in. I think they thought, “I sold them the house but those light bulbs are mine.” They thought about themselves without a care for how it impacted those around them.
That said, they went to considerable effort to inconvenience others.
A few years back I worked as a grey badge (a contractor for a particular company) on an amazing team.
I really liked the people I worked with and learned so much from so many of them.
But there was this guy who used to tell a story about a friend of his who he very much admired. It’s one of those stories where the teller thinks it reveals one thing about his friend and everybody listening thinks it reveals something else.
He and his friend would go out to dinner and his friend would fan out a bunch of one dollar bills on one corner of the table.
When the waiter came over to the table the friend would gesture to the bills and explain that the bills are the tip the friend intends to give the waiter at the end of the evening. But every time the waiter makes a mistake or fails in some way, the friend explained to the waiter, some of the bills would be taken away.
If his water glass remained unfilled for too long or the meat wasn’t cooked to his liking, the friend would catch the waiters eye and remove bills from the table.
That is story number three.
My co-worker thought this was entertaining and great. Both he and his friend thought that this behavior would properly incent the waiter to give them the service to which they were entitled.
So that’s my current challenge.
I love the people I’m surrounded with. They tend to think about the effect of their words and actions on others.
But what about the rest?
What about the people who think they are being well-meaning and just don’t see how they are effecting the people around them? Set a meeting and show up late. Express interest where there is none. Not notice the gifts you receive from other people’s input and time.
What about the people who don’t notice the people around them and don’t care to even see them? I’ll never see the people who bought the house. Besides, what’s the big deal - they can buy their own lightbulbs. Where was it written that there would be lightbulbs provided for them?
And finally, what about the people who notice the people around them and just don’t care as long as their own needs are being met? Literally taking money away from someone who needs it and making it the server’s fault. Not caring that the server who is rushing to serve them and save that tip may be overly attentive to them while having to ignore someone else. “Not my problem.”
I don’t know how to reach any of those people - and yet I persist.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 36. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe