Fridays are now “Code Review” days at SpeakerText. Each Code Review, a different engineer shares a completed project with the company. Discussion ensues. This has turned into an opportunity for everyone in the company––interns included––to bring up issues and question how & why we do what we do.
Matt Swanson, my co-founder, CTO, roommate and best friend, is responsible for setting up this tradition. Yesterday was the first time I attended. It was awesome.
The session started at 530p with a presentation from our senior Ruby developer. It ended almost 3 hours later. In between, we had an epic, wide ranging all-hands discussion about our worker community, the morality of crowdsourcing, incentive structures, what actually drives human behavior and whether “rationality” is a legitimate concept.
What sparked the debate was a presentation from an economist. Yes, an economist––a labor economist, to be precise. We hired him to lead research into our worker community. Who are they? Why are they working? How do we incent them to do more/better work?
It turns out that our best workers didn’t fit the profile that we’d hypothesized. This was interesting. But what really got people excited (good & bad) were the economist’s suggestions on how we should incentivize our workers going forward. I won’t share the exact details (for competitive reasons), but it forced us to ask an important philosophical question: What does it mean to be “rational”? Is someone rational if they exchange material benefit for psychic pleasure? Or is the very notion of rationality completely bunk, just some theorist’s antiquated idea of how humans should act that has no bearing on real behavior?
Moreover, What moral duty do we have as a company to discourage or induce certain patterns of behavior? Do people really have choice and control over their actions? Is turning work into a game evil?
There was non consensus answer. People disagreed, sometimes sharply. Even the interns got involved. It was an outstanding debate––the kind you have with your roommates in college at 2am over Nietzche or Marx. Except we weren’t in college. We were a room of 10 (mostly) grown men. And we weren’t just talking theory––we were debating the future of our company and what we are going to build in the coming weeks.
Most companies never ask these basic questions of themselves. My hope is that we never stop.