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Mar 20 2014

Does Loyalty Stifle Innovation in Technology? | MojoTech

Our industry doesn’t respect tradition.

And that’s a very good thing, as tradition often gets in the way of innovation.

We don’t have a lot of respect for things that appear to be “old school,” like organizational hierarchy or lust for money.

For the most part, this has served us well.

But I’ve been noticing that there are other virtues and practices that some in our space seem to consider antiquated. Except I don’t believe that they are.

I’m talking about loyalty and perseverance.

Calvin & Hobbes Joke

We job hop. We start and stop projects based on paths of least resistance. Our hacking culture, while tremendously productive and responsible for countless innovations, also conditions us to look for the easiest ways to achieve results.

Loyalty and perseverance are hard. They’re not an easy path to success. It’s much easier to give up on something — or someone — when a “better” (read: faster payoff) opportunity presents itself.

We abandon the hard road (loyalty and perseverance) in search of instant gratification.

The problem with instant gratification is that it creates short-term value.

In my personal and professional life, I’ve found that the most long-term value is created when I fix a situation that isn’t ideal, even if there was an option to abandon it and arrive at a similar outcome.

When it’s a people problem, fixing it means loyalty. When it’s an engineering problem, that’s perseverance.

Many of the young people we’ve hired are surprised at how hard it is to become excellent at engineering. In fact, some have left because they simply didn’t think being excellent was necessary thanks to all the easy-to-use frameworks and tools available to us.

The truth about those tools and frameworks is that they make it easier to get started. They lower the barrier to entry for everyone. But they do nothing to lower the barrier to excellence.

The good engineers — the ones willing to put in the hard work to become excellent — persevere, and we’re loyal to them by continuing to invest in their development. In turn, this makes them more loyal to us. I hear a lot of complaints about how impossible it is to find and retain talented engineers, but I think many companies and most engineers are simply looking for the easiest path.

Disclaimer: sometimes, the right path is the easiest one. But not at the cost of loyalty or perseverance. One of my favorite authors, Seth Godin, wrote a great book on this topic. I’d encourage everyone to read it.

~ Nick Kishfy (@kishfy)

Image Credit: Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

Nick Kishfy