Caring is Hard.

Today on Seth Godin’s blog, he makes an interesting observation about how caring about your product and your customers can make all the difference in your bottom line and give you a competitive advantage, because it's something a lot of companies don't do.

Like most things that are worth doing, it's not easy at first and the one who cares isn't going to get a standing ovation from those that are merely phoning it in. I think it's this lack of early positive feedback that makes caring in service businesses so rare.

I agree, Seth, and I’d like to go even further. What is it about caring that makes it so hard to do?

Caring is hard because it makes you vulnerable. Being vulnerable is scary and uncomfortable, and we humans don’t like that. Sometimes people don’t like something we’re proud of. When you care about the experience of your customer, and you’ve poured your heart and soul into something, it sucks when they aren’t happy. If we stay emotionally detached, we aren’t as adversely affected by negative feedback. It’s easier to blow it off, and not be hurt.

Caring is hard because it makes you accept responsibility. Sometimes bad things happen. Mistakes are made, things get screwed up. When we become emotional about our jobs, we take mistakes personally. It eats at us. We vow to get better, forgive ourselves, and move on. And most times we are able to do that... the end result being even better than before. But it’s not easy, and sometimes we just give up. It’s much easier to stay detached and shrug our shoulders when something goes wrong instead of taking it to heart.

Caring is hard because it takes energy and patience. I think this is especially true, as Seth said, if you’re the only one who seems to be passionate about what your organization does. It’s frustrating, draining and disheartening. Energy and patience are things that seem to be in limited supply in this human culture we’ve created for ourselves, and if you're already feeling tapped, spending them at the workplace may not be the choice you make.

Caring is hard because it takes attention. Another commodity that seems to be in limited supply is our attention. In a world where we are juggling hundreds of thoughts, tasks, and distractions, paying attention to the small details gets lost. And the small details are what add up to big details. It’s easy to let little things slide and allow our focus to become blurred on the urgent but not necessarily important.

Besides just the result on the company’s bottom line, caring is worth it because it enriches us personally. The sense of pride you feel when you know you’ve done a good job, when you’ve created something that wasn’t there the day before, when you’ve solved a problem that was particularly difficult... those are the things that make caring worth it. In short, when we care, and things are good, we feel good.

Although I’m relatively new to Engine Yard, I can say I’m thankful to work for a company who has no room for people who don’t care. The culture is to deliver beyond expectations, whatever that means for each individual’s role here, and we are given the support and space to do so. The result is an awesome place to work, and an awesome set of products. If you find yourself in an environment where people don't care about what they do, or each other, my advice to you is to get out now... while you still can.

In short, caring is hard, but so, so worth it. Better to have cared and lost than never to have cared at all.

PHP Internals, Let's Chat About the Future!

Consider this a call to the PHP Internals team. We've been doing a series of panel discussions over at Engine Yard about PHP-related frameworks and where they are going in the future, but one important piece that's missing is the discussion about the future of the PHP core.

A few weeks ago, I approached Rasmus about this and we both came to the agreement that it would be very difficult to nail down core devs to a handful of people. The PHP core team is large and far-reaching. How do you decide who to ask to participate? The only solution is to open it up and include whoever wants to be included.

I didn't want to spam the internals list with this, so I'll just put it out here on my blog, and hopefully the word will spread. If you're a core PHP contributor and you want to voice your opinion in a friendly panel discussion about where you'd like to see PHP in 5 years, then I'd love to chat with you and include you in the discussion.

You can find me at enaramore at engine yard dot com, or my personal email at elizabeth at naramore dot net. Hope to hear from you!