The most exciting thing I can learn about anyone boils down to this:
They really, truly give a damn about something.
It’s important to calibrate what I mean about this. Being a stickler about Star Trek trivia, parts of speech or state capitals doesn’t count. Affinity for political knee-jerk doesn’t qualify, either.
Giving a damn is about sacrifice and investment. It’s paying with something precious in the service of something you really, truly value.
My favorite leaders, consistently, gave a damn about good leadership. Years ago, during my college internship, I’d stroll into my boss’s office, politely interrupt whatever the hell it was he was doing, and have a conversation. This guy was the director of the department, working on a Master’s degree on the side, and was the busiest guy I’d ever met. But as long as nothing was on fire, he’d give me half an hour to answer my questions about anything. I figured out much later that the reason he did this was that he gave a damn about leadership and helping people grow.
This isn’t something you can half ass. Either you really, trully give a damn about leadership – or you’re just another one of those bosses.
Leadership is a universal one, but this works with anything. I’d rather hire someone green who truly gives a damn about the work than someone with both experience and apathy. Many things can be taught – giving a damn is not one of them.
It goes beyond picking your team or picking your boss, though. The very best companies, large and small prove that they give a damn, too.
In Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh explains that Zappos treats their customer service as a marketing expense to be padded instead of an operational expense to be reduced. It’s a very Keanu “whoa” moment when you ponder that. It flips everything around in your head – while being so entirely correct, you can’t imagine anything different. Organizationally, Zappos gives a damn about doing the right thing for people and backs this up with a significant investment.
Down the road from where I live, an immigrant family owns the best damned Chinese restaurant on earth. The food is consistently delicious, but it doesn’t end there. I’m greeted warmly, my picky custom orders are delivered with fastidious accuracy, and every meal is accompanied by a free appetizer or some on-the-house ice cream. These guys truly give a damn about creating an enjoyable restaurant.
If being a good boss is giving a damn about leadership and running a great business is giving a damn about customer service, what about great software?
Great software boils down to giving a damn about user experience. Take a look at your browser history. How much horseshit do you have going on in your digital life? Web applications take the cake for shameless apathy. When an exception turns up – when someone, miraculously, gives a damn about making their software work well, it’s a special moment.
Hipmunk is just such a miracle. Look at this homepage:
The text fields are huge, meaty, clearly-labeled things. Easy to find and click on. Instead of being relegated to a forgotten sidebar, the search activity itself is the focal point of the page. There are no distracting promotions or other crap you don’t care about. “You’re here to search for your flight, so let’s make it happen!” cries Hipmunk, grabbing you by the cheeks and shoving you into search land. Want to leave tomorrow? Type “tomorrow” into the date field.
For reference, let’s compare to another site.
From the two examples, which app gives more of a damn about helping you find your flight?
Travelocity can’t even be bothered to make their time of day dropdown fit the default selection.
Meanwhile: Hipmunk’s outstanding search results interface.
There is a sort option called agony. It’s the default. Hipmunk’s creators thought a moment and realized that lengthy flights and layovers are an important detail to make clear from the beginning. The layout lets you see a timeline for your flight date, letting you quickly understand when you’re leaving and when you’re arriving in local time. It’s also a great way to visually compare the lengths of multiple flights. These guys… well, you know what I’m going to say.
No matter what you’re doing, giving a damn matters. The things you do that you don’t give a damn about, I guarantee you’re doing poorly. You can’t give a damn about everything, but please, I beg you, find at least one thing.
And if you do give a damn: I cannot wait to meet you, work with you, be your customer or use your software.
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