Permit us once more to vary from the technical nature of our weekly posts. In keeping with an approach we’ve taken over the past eight or nine month in the articles we post close to holidays, we’re pausing to think about what we’re doing, check our own goals and invite your response to the thinking that’s behind our actions.
So as I thought about this post on the Labor Day holiday in the United States, it occurs to me that this is something of a “free” holiday for many of us. There’s generally no particular shopping or gift-giving required, and no elaborate meals or special rituals that we observe, although some people certainly do one or more of each of those activities.
If anything, I wonder if there might be a sense of hesitation, almost ambivalence about this day. Labor Day is a day set aside to honor members of the organized labor movement who struggled for better, safer, more humane working conditions for the people we refer to as “blue collar” workers. If that movement has fallen out of favor with some, it’s not my task here to argue for or against any side of that debate. Rather than staking out a debate position, I’ll use the annual commemoration of progress through conflict to make a statement of the obvious and then offer a brief comment on it.
Any genuine conflict – whether between workers and managers, between co-workers, or between a business and its customers – indicates the vulnerability of our relationships. There are myriad reasons for the fragility of our relationships and for our purposes here those reasons don’t really matter. But where there’s real conflict – not a difference of opinion or a struggle between competing priorities but conflict that breeds enmity – there lies beneath, a damaged or broken relationship.
As I draft this blog post in mid-August 2014 the news seems flooded by this brokenness: in Gaza, in the Ukraine, in Ferguson, Missouri in the United States to cite a few glaring, painful examples. It’s nowhere close to a complete list. Of course, an obvious rejoinder to that statement is that relationships can also be resilient. People who’ve endured awful suffering from terribly damaged relationships can rebound, recover, and ultimately heal. There’s hope in that and a reason to keep working.
But if relationships are more important to workplace success than software, then where does that leave those of us who are brought together through the work of creating and delivering software? We can’t provide or deliver or fix relationships in our products, whatever advertising tries to promise. Relationships have to be through care and time and nurturing.
Instead, we try to provide tools that facilitate specific work that needs to be done, and if we’re successful, those tools become invisible as our customers gain competence in using them to complete their work. If that sounds so simple that it’s not worth blogging about, I submit that most of our software tools are “in our faces” a bit too much. They can be more noticeable than they should be because of design flaws or because they contain needed complexity that’s challenging to install, configure and use.
Our work is to try to make all of that better. On Tuesday after the Labor Day holiday, as you go about your work, I invite you to let us know where we’re getting it right and where something needs to be fixed. I invite you to a relationship that’s open to confronting what doesn’t work, willing to acknowledge what does work, and that thrives within the vulnerability that comes from recognizing that what we’re trying hard to do might fail. And then committing to the resilience to make it better for both of us. For all of us.
Have a great Labor Day!