On Taking Responsibility

by | F2B Podcast

Lessons learned from recent decisions made at Basecamp.

Full Transcript:

In our businesses, one of the most Christian things that we can do is to take responsibility for our actions.  I think most people would argue that this is just a good human thing to do, and it is.  But especially if we’re concerned with honoring the Lord in our business, then we are going to want to be very concerned with taking responsibility for the choices we make, the decisions we make, the way we lead our company, the policies that we allow to go on at our companies and things like that.

I want to share something with you some lessons that I’m watching another company experience from a distance, so being transparent here, this is not something that I am having to work through right not because I don’t have any employees.  I have some contractors who I am working with a lot, so I do think that I have some experience in this, at least a little bit.  But not to the degree that some of you may.  I totally get that.  Again, I’m not speaking from a position of, hey I’ve got this all figured out, instead I just want to share, and frankly I don’t even know where this lesson is going to end up going, so I’m just going to trust it to the Lord that in this episode I can say something that is meaningful and maybe helpful for you.

I was recently, and when I say recently I mean last night, made aware of something that has been going on at a company that I place a lot of faith in in my business.  There is a company that has been around since 1999.  They started under the name of 37 Signals and what they did was work around website design client work.  Eventually what they ended up doing was building a software called Basecamp and they have since renamed the company to Basecamp and many of you listening to this podcast may even be familiar with the product.  I dove in headfirst a few months ago, I guess, maybe about 6 months ago or so and dove in to the product Basecamp and as soon as they came out with their email product, something called HEY, I dove headfirst into that.  I frankly have been extremely happy with both Basecamp and HEY.  They are great products.  They are very useful.  They don’t have every feature, they have useful features.  They have features that you didn’t even know you needed but that are tremendously useful.

The owners of this company are Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, also known as DHH.  DHH invented Ruby on Rails.  He took the Ruby platform, the Ruby coding language and created the platform called rails, which became Ruby on Rails and it is one of the most widely used development platforms to date across the internet.  It’s open sourced and everything so there are a lot of people who are contributing to this now that are in the public arena and so it’s out of his immediate purview which is arguably a good thing.  He’s focused on his company.  Basecamp.  Also, Jason and David have written books together about the way that they handle their company.  There is essentially a whole methodology of work around the way that they work.  They’ve written a few books.  I’ve read three.  I’ve read “Remote,” I’ve read “It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work,” and I’ve read “Rework.”  All of these are great books.  I love the way that they are organized, I love the way they are structured, etc.

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I don’t want to drift into judging people from afar because I don’t know them.  I have reason to suspect that at least Jason Fried is a Christian.  This may be important in a minute as I’m talking through this.  I have reason to suspect that Jason Fried is a Christian, although I may be wrong about that.

I have reason to suspect that David Heinemeier Hansson is not a Christian.  Again, I’m not trying to judge.  I just don’t know.  But I have reason to suspect each of these things and that’s why I’m mentioning this.  Because it’s going to be important.

If I’m right about that, then in the fundamental leadership and ownership of this company, you have two worldviews, two very different worldviews with two very different sets of beliefs that will likely encompass aspects of all of their lives.  Your worldview affects everything about your life and the way that you show up in the world.

So as we’re thinking through this, that’s important because they recently just announced a set of changes where, without going all into the intricacies of it, essentially Jason and David made an announcement that there would be no more political sorts of discussions on internal company communications or on external company communications platforms.  The company had been publicly taking positions on things that did not reflect the views of everybody who worked in the company.  It was a relatively small company, I think there’s only 60 people there, and that’s why I think it’s telling that in the very leadership of the company, the 2 people who own, lead and run the entire company, there is a huge disparity. Again, I believe there is a fairly significant disparity of worldview, yet they united together on the work.

There are biblical things you can take many different directions here.  I’m not arguing whether or not it’s a wise thing if I’m writing about their worldview differences.  I’m not necessarily weighing in right now on whether or not they should be in business to begin with.  It’s not my place to say.  That’s not what I’m doing here.  I do think that I’m at least potentially right about that distinction that I made between them and that means that in the fundamental fabric of the company, they have figured out a way to run this company for 22 years now without having a sort of tension that would be so catastrophic as to break up the business.  Yet they just recently together came out with these new guidelines around social and political issues that the company was not going to take a specific position on.  Therefore any and all communication that was external that was going on regarding these things was to cease and that any internal conversation around these things was going to cease at least on company property such as their very own basecamp account where they were seeing these things and these sorts of discussions happening.  It was unproductive to the work.  It wasn’t the best thing for the customer and it wasn’t the best thing for the business.

Over this decision, one third of their company decided to leave.  Jason and David knew that this was going to be an issue.  I don’t know that they expected it to be as big of an issue as it was, but essentially they have a lot of people there who wanted to be able to more freely express their opinions through their work and they left.  These include some major players in the business, people who had been there for a long time, people who had been doing great development work, great design work, great customer service work, and so people are leaving because they’re unhappy over this.

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For me, any company, they’ve been through changes and they’ve been through shifts and they have maneuvered throughout different murky waters before, so I’m hopeful they can come out from this too and emerge from the ashes so to speak.  I hope that it doesn’t shut them down because I’m a big user and fan of their products and of their work methodology and everything else.  I really do selfishly hope they can recover from this.

But the simple lesson that I wanted to bring back around with this story is that they’ve taken responsibility for it.  They each have a personal blog through their product called HEY World.  If you go to world.hey.com/Jason or world.hey.com/DHH, you are going to get their opinions about these things and you’re going to hear from their heart and from them what they say.  Jason made the announcement on his blog so that the rest of the world was clued in to what was going on. They are very public, very open, and they are taking responsibility for the decision that they made.  They stand by the decision.

I was starting to tell this earlier and then I didn’t complete my thought.  But essentially they offered a compensation package, a generous, I think, compensation and severance package for those who wanted to leave because of the changes and many people indeed took them up on that.  So here we are.  They are taking responsibility for it.

The lesson, I guess, is there are going to be hard decisions to make in your business.  It might be of this very nature.  It might be what does our company take a public stance on?  These sorts of things.  That’s the decision you’re going to have to make for you and your business.  Is there going to be a fundamental disparity between the way you run your business and the kind of things you say in your life, or are they going to bleed together?  It really depends on the nature of your business as to what decision you should make, if that’s the question.  But there are other questions.  There are all sorts of questions.  There are things you are going to have to take responsibility for, decisions that you’re going to make that are going to be tough, some people aren’t going to like them, some people are going to love them.  Regardless of whatever people like, say, think or feel, you must take responsibility.  There is a responsibility to be had for the things that you create and if we need to look at an analogy in scripture, can we not look at the death of Jesus on the cross.

The very creator and sustainer of life took on the responsibility.  I wanted to say taking responsibility for the mess that he made.  I’m qualifying that because I don’t think God made a mess, I think God made something beautiful, but it did break.  God couldn’t make perfect beings without making robots, so what he did was take responsibility for that creation and offer a way out, offer a way for redemption.  Think about that.  God took responsibility for what he created, you should too.  I should too.  That’s the lesson.

God bless you.  I hope you find something in this you can use in your life and in your business.  We’ll see you in the next episode.

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