We recently announced to the team that we were adding a new value to our core value list, and in turn, replacing one of our oldest, collaborative. Here’s how we got to this point, and why this change became a priority for us.
The Founding Values
As Planet Argon was being founded, the team established core values that resonated with their ethos of making it happen and embracing the open-source nature of Ruby on Rails. Collaboration, enthusiasm, community, versatility and execution (meaning, to get things done, we weren’t taking a political/judicial stance here) were the five values that guided them in those early years.
Ten years later, the team had grown and changed, and the newly formed leadership team had the opportunity to build out a roadmap and vision for the future of the company. We chose to challenge each of those values to ensure that if each team member and client exemplified those values, we could reach those goals. Through discussion, we again, narrowed them down to five values. To be successful, we felt the team needed to be collaborative and versatile, as well as, proactive, dependable and delightful (internally we’ve memorized through PC-DVD).
A year went by, and the values helped us focus, but there was one value missing that kept creeping into our discussions.
The Missing Piece
As we discussed the health and progress of our team, we often remarked on a value that was lacking. When we’d examine ways we could improve what we offer for our clients, we’d note that the team had seemed to be afraid to take on risks; to try things out, and not fear failure. People had become comfortable with what they already knew, and felt that THAT’s what the team needed. We’d comment “Our team should be encouraged to be more curious. Uncover new things, keep learning. That’s what will help us all develop and grow, and ultimately, help our clients succeed.”
When we brainstormed ways to mitigate the risk of teammates feeling isolated on a project, we’d remark “It’s like there just needs to be a new level of curiosity, for the team to talk about what they are doing, for us to engage each other in conversation - that’s not an indirect message thrown in Slack”.
After each discussion, the question left remaining was, how do we encourage and promote that?
Being Curious, About Curiousness
As curiousness found its way into our discussions more frequently, we realized we needed to embrace it. We weren’t ready to make it CORE to our team just yet. We wanted to test it out organically.
In the short-term, we added a few things around our studio and into our process.
- Embracing Failure: We added a fail wall. Small in scale compared to some but with the same intention. It’s marked with a quote “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently” by Henry Ford. By encouraging teammates to try and fail, and try again, we encourage the ability to succeed.
- Sharing: As we talked more about curiousness, we wanted to encourage (or force) everyone to talk about themselves, personally and professionally. Every Monday morning, we stand in a circle, and each person shares a personal highlight from the past week, a professional highlight, a lesson learned (or a risk they took) and acknowledge a team member (or client) that embraced a core value. Getting a chance to share highlights and failures, again, helps us get comfortable being vulnerable, shows support, and encourages teamwork.
- Writing: We use Know Your Company to ask two questions every week; one specific to the health/progress of the company and the other personal. Encouraging our teammates to share honest answers not only builds trust, but also encourages us to uncover more about each other. The questions range from opinions on company decisions, to what decorated our walls when we were kids.
- Presenting: Every first Friday of the month, we have a Knowing Me, Knowing You meeting. We interview each other on past projects, events, or to just share something personal. We shine lights on teammates hobbies (like Scott’s coffee roasting hobby, or Brian’s love of retro gaming) to encourage others to share their curiosities.
But Doesn’t Curiosity Kill the Cat?
My four year old likes to watch Curious George. By watching with her, I’ve found a new appreciation for the values in which George is trying to instill in her (and maybe me?). Yah, he gets into trouble and he often makes a mess, but it’s usually ok (and it usually ends up being helpful). The biggest lesson is that he doesn’t give up being curious.
As a child, being curious is seen as a way of learning. We try and embrace it and encourage it. We fuel their minds with mini experiments they can do, observations they can keep track of, and explanations to help them develop.
As an adult, curiosity is easy to let go. You’re on the job, you need to produce results. You need to be the expert. You have time limitations, etc. With all of those expectations and realities, curiousness and the risk of failure get a bad wrap. Kid stuff, right?
In reality, however, we never stop learning. We never stop uncovering new things or developing, if we allow it. By identifying the gaps we were seeing, we understood that a healthy dose of curiosity and an appreciation for failure can positively impact both our internal relationships and the work we create for our clients. If we continue to ask questions, we learn. Embracing that only makes us stronger.
Bringing Curiousness to the Values Table
Over the course of a few months, we organically introduced curiousness. Realizing its importance and wanting our team to fully embrace it, we made the decision to add it as one of our core values.
Not wanting to just add another value, we again explored the importance of proactive, collaborative, dependable, versatile, and delightful. All but one felt strong and unique. Collaborative, one of the remaining founding values, had started to feel flat. This could be in part because it was almost inherently part of the other values. You couldn’t be proactive, delightful or dependable, for example, without being collaborative. It also had become an expected and obvious value. Over the years it had become ingrained into our culture and process. Every team member knows the value and benefits of collaborating with their fellow team members and with our clients, and more often, prefer it.
In the end, we resolved to keep just five values (and the acronym we shared could stay PC-DVD); Proactive, Dependable, Versatile, Delightful, and now Curious. Why curious? We believe a natural curiosity for the undiscovered results in remarkable work for our clients – and stronger connections for our team. We ask questions, learn, and, like George, aren't afraid to fail.