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When we started building ON Lab, we set an ideal of our company that was true at that time. But along the way our vision has shifted to become something, to out understanding, far more mature and real. Our initial dreams transformed, after many books, talks, discussions and moments of meditation into a WHY that recites the following:
We believe in the pursuit of happiness by building a dream team that creates, with passion, purpose and joy, beautiful software.
The words in bold highlight what we consider important. It’s not about the software. What is important was discovering why we do what we do. Finding out that we do it to find happiness.
This WHY has been the engine for all decisions and discussions since its birth. When it comes to deciding whether to be part of a project, accept a job request, attend a meeting or reply an email, every decision can be responded using our WHY as the ultimate argument. Appealing to the WHY has been, and is still, enough of an argument, and that is part of the collective understanding of the partners.
Of course this is something that is not supposed to be stay at the board level, but rather be part of the hole organization, touching every single member that constitute it. But at the same time, this is not trivial. Not only it can be difficult to infect, but also it is extremely hard to measure.
Let’s start with passion. Passion is not rational. I read Ken Robinson’s The Element a few years ago, where he sheds some light on this subject and everything that passion entails. We know it can be somehow absorbed when we are young, but above all we know it something really deep and personal, that we don’t buy or copy, and that it is a unique source of motivation. But then, how can we infect with passion those people that work with us? Can we influence that? Or even more importantly, is it something we have to do? Us?
Then we have purpose. I believe that having purpose is something that helps us (unlike passion, that push us) to keep going despite adversities. And I see purpose as something that changes overtime, adjusted by both internal and external changes, and that, at the same time, can be molded externally up to a certain degree. I consider that purpose should be in our thoughts and take some of our time to be found, refined and shared with the rest within the organization.
And finally, joy. The most malleable and changing of the three. Completely influenced by external agents and, although built from within, contagious and powerful. No doubt is a critical component of happiness. Something to work on and promote every minute of every day.
But after many more books and thought, we discovered that out WHY had something critical missing. Something we valued greatly, and that we considered paramount to complete our happiness. Something we didn’t initially see, and without which our WHY is not complete.
I understand freedom right now as the possibility of deciding in what I invest myself. And I recognize that freedom has different flavors. But I would like to focus on something I find particularly interesting. Can I feel free when I’m not completely free to choose between the infinity of options? Does freedom cease to exist unless I’m completely free? I don’t think so. I see freedom as a huge gray line with millions of hues. Each step forward is one more degree of freedom. And from the first step I’m already free. Just a little bit. But I am. And what I believe is important is not what freedom I own in absolute terms, compared to an outside measure, but the degree of freedom I feel. Is my freedom extinct if I have just a few options but still I feel free? I don’t think so.
This presents an interesting model when applied to work. When I think about my work I feel at times an incredible sense of freedom. I feel I’m flowing and that I can decide how to plan the day to my liking, choose where in the world to be, and work on what I feel like working on, being a personal project or a client’s request. I feel really free. But at the same time, I acknowledge I’m not completely free. I can’t yet travel every month to a different country of my choosing. I can’t team up with people at Tesla to design my own electric car. So then, am I really free?
Discussing with one of my partners, we were talking about this and the paradox of whether I really want to do what I can do. Am I free if I only choose what I can do according to my means? This is the question that I think I might have some more light to shed on now.
Freedom is not given. At least for most of us. Freedom is earned, achieved. Is the result of one or more actions throughout time. It is the outcome of hours of work, a good investment, a sale, a gift, a change in the mindset. Something is done, that results in one extra degree of freedom, or a bunch of them. But this action is different for all of us and how much it impacts on our freedom (or our feeling of freedom) depends on the person. The same way, something we do can decrease our freedom. A “wrong” decision can take degrees of freedom away from us that we will need to get back with other actions or decisions.
But something curious happens when we find passion, purpose and joy in our jobs. In my case, my job helps me take those steps in the right direction towards increasing my freedom. And at the same time, I’m passionate about it. Every day I see more clearly what I want and what I don’t want to do. It helps me mature in my opinions and my feelings. And it also helps me achieve what I want to achieve as my ultimate goal. So then, why would I choose not to do it? You see? It’s a virtuous cycle. It’s an upward spiral. A perpetual motion machine. I choose to do something that I feel passionate about, wishing to increase my freedom. And that that I do helps me be freer. I choose what I can. I choose what I want. And I feel free.
As a final word, I would like to make a comment about this in relation to the rest of the people that works within the organization. I love the idea of transmitting the passion I feel, the same way I love to share my purpose and spread joy. I also love the idea of being able to help others achieve the freedom they need to find happiness. But at the same time, my post-war mindset asks me: but why would others do the work they need to do for the company if they are free to do what they want? To which I respond: because their work will help them achieve that freedom they want, and they’ll choose to do it today and the next day because they feel passionate about it, they find purpose and they feel joy.
From all this I can make one conclusion that I believe is of importance. We don’t need to make extraordinary efforts to inspire and spread passion over the people that work with us. We need a more mature society. We need people to think about this and get to know themselves more before turning 30. We need to know our passions, have purpose and care about finding purpose on what we do, and so we’ll find our place in an organization that helps us achieve the freedom we want, doing what we want to do, while being free every day of our lives.