I Don’t Want to Sound Like a Robot

I sometimes worry that I’m turning into a robot. Management is a funny thing. You get into management because you care about people and processes and doing things right. But a peculiar threshold emerges as you’re given more people and responsibility to manage. At some point, to be as effective as you can possibly be, you start considering these people and processes as one big organism. Like a 3D puzzle where you have to blur your eyes to see the full picture.

When you blur your eyes, you become a robot.

Why robots are bad

Robots don’t see all the nuances. They skip over complex emotions, like curiosity and frustration. Humans are complicated creatures who have such emotions. A robot can’t inspire a novice developer to learn a new technology, or listen sympathetically to someone who’s venting. When a company is run by robots, souls shrivel up until they become robots themselves.

I met an entrepreneur recently. He’s developing a new tool for developers. His mockup for the home screen ran rampant with unruly code snippets in a million small boxes. Even if I weren’t an ex-designer, I would’ve felt… uncomfortable. He said he didn’t care about fun. He was solving a problem here, a very important one! What mattered was quick access and efficiency!

Wait, did I hear “I don’t care about fun”?

Without fun or curiosity, we stop imbuing fun into our output. And fun is attached to a whole slew of things like delight, engagement, stickyness, and impact. When we become robots who stop caring about fun, we no longer build products that move people. You want to move people, don’t you?

The Worst Part About Being a Remote Robot

Like many things, being a robot gets exponentially worse when we’re in a distributed team. This is because you are more likely to be seen as just a robot. The number of interactions we have are fewer, and funneled through 30-minute video chats. How you speak will give away that you’re a robot, and there won’t be watercooler jokes or a hokey souvenir on your desk to dispel that.

Signs You’re Becoming a Robot

It starts innocuously enough. You’re looking at bottom line, financials, and you realize that you’re going to have to “cut costs” or “drive more revenue.” In times like these, it’s helpful to see everything in front of you as “assets.” But people aren’t utilities, are they? They aren’t fixed outputs. You invest in them, not knowing whether they’ll depreciate or grow. And that’s the fun part of working with people instead of machinery.

It’s around this time that someone will say to you, “Maybe you’re just not cut out for management.”

Don’t listen to them.

This post was originally written in 2014 and published in January 2015. Here’s why!