On entitlement

Dec 14, 2012

I'm so incredibly fortunate. My parents left their homeland to start a new life in Australia, an amazing country to grow up in. From the series of seemingly isolated events that led them to make that decision, right up to the ones that led to me living in San Francisco, it's difficult to imagine a probable alternate reality where things could have turned out much better. Everyone has complaints, things they wish were different, but if I had a choice to switch my current circumstance with some other random person on this planet there's no way I'd take it. Statistically speaking it's an almost guaranteed losing bet. I've lived a privileged life, and I try to remind myself how lucky I am regularly.

Few things irritate me more than when those that have it so incredibly good don't acknowledge it, don't appreciate it, or worst of all just straight up expect it. The depressing thing is that I see if far too often in the tech industry, it's one of the few ugly parts of working in the industry I do. As if we're entitled to everything and that the world owes us a free lunch.

On free lunches

I get free lunches! Every day! And they're amazing! They seemed like a ridiculous excess that only made sense in The Valley until I moved over here. Now I can't imagine running a company without them. It's not because you should spoil your staff, but I'd just never appreciated how much productive conversation is had when you share lunch with colleagues most days. But it's a very fine balance. And I've been incredibly fortunate to have landed at a company that gets it, that doesn't spoil employees just because it can, but does it with due consideration. Makes sure that we're appreciative of what we have, that we're more productive and happier for having it, that we recognize the contribution each individual throughout the company makes in moving us closer towards our larger ambitions.

But it would be easy to get it wrong, easy for people to start taking it for granted. And what I've come to realize is that getting it wrong is the default path. You need to actively rail against complacency, show your appreciation, and every day remind yourself just how lucky you are. Speaking of which, @HerokuVibe, you're all amazing.

It's so pervasive

It's surprising how easily this sense of entitlement gets hold of you. The proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, that got me to finally write up my thoughts on this, was Sarah Lacy's complaints about Yammer downtime. In particular I loved this quote, "It was almost as if we were getting the value of what we’re paying. You know, nothing.". It's incredible. Somebody, running a for-profit business, is complaining that their "core productivity tool" is down. Something that by their own admission is critical to the effective functioning of their business. And not only are they paying absolutely zero for it, they've now had the gall to take to the stage and publicly criticize said company for being so inconsiderate to have 4 hours of downtime. How dare they!

It's a slippery slope, I think I've been there before. GitHub has become a part of my work flow for a number of years now. And there's been times when they've had an outage and I've been tempted to join the Twitter rage at the injustice of it all. But you know how much it really impacts me? Zilch. I get up and go grab a long overdue walk and a coffee. I come back and it's probably working again. Worst case, I might have to actually talk to someone or work out how to use my iPhone as a phone. It's such a minor inconvenience with such minor impact in the grand scheme of things it seems ridiculous to complain about it.

Pay it forward

So I pay GitHub. Real cash money, out of my own account, for features I don't even use (all my repos are public these days). Why? Because I get value out of the product. Because it's important to my productivity. Because I want this company to be around in a few years and continue to make my life better. I even paid to join App.net, and used it twice. I like Twitter, I find it moderately useful, I want it to be around in a few years. But they wont take my money, so I'm giving it to someone who will in the hope they wont try and turn me into the product. I've bought all the software on my computer, I stream my music via my Spotify subscription. I still pay for Flickr, I hardly use it, but I want it to be better.

I see this all the time with users of technology these days. The expectation of a free lunch, the disconnect between the value people get from a product/service and what we're willing to pay for it, the belief that our only obligation is the minimum that is demanded of us. Followed by the indignation when we're asked to pay what it's worth, the outrage when something we depend on ceases to exist, and the denial that we're at all complicit in it's demise. But we are complicit. It's like we somehow forget that on the other side of that transaction, that product, that service, that lunch, is someone who is probably just like us trying to do their job and get rewarded for doing so. That for some perverse reason this other person should be thankful for the fact we're taking up their time, and should do so without complaint or without the expectation of anything in return. But that's not how functioning societies work, commerce is built on trust and the implication that an act of generosity show by one will be reciprocated.

Entitlement isn't just ugly, it's dysfunctional. And over the long-term unsustainable.

Keep it real

A friend introduced me to this clip from Louis CK earlier this year. It's served as a great reality check whenever I feel a great injustice in my world.

Hi, I'm Glenn! 👋 I'm currently Director of Product @ HashiCorp, and we're hiring! If you'd like to come and work with me and help make Terraform Cloud even more amazing we have multiple positions opening in Product ManagementDesign, and Engineering & Engineering Management across a range of levels (i.e., junior through to senior). Please send in an application ASAP so we can get in touch.