There’s an old riddle that goes like this:
In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference in the roles of the chicken and the pig?
Answer: The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.
It’s a freakin’ job
It used to be that managers — especially startup managers — wanted to be sure that everyone would do whatever it took to succeed. The were looking for commitment.
I did the startup thing for more than a decade. I worked the nights and weekends. I did whatever it took to get the job done. Nobody worked harder than I did.
Other than normal pay and benefits, what did it get me? Experience. And a total of $15,000 in equity payoff. (No, I did not slip a zero, that’s what I got total from two startup jobs where the company had successful exits. The other two paid zero.)
Then there was the place where they told me I was laid off with several weeks notice, then told me they needed me to work the last week of my employment, between Christmas and New Years, to get my bonus. When the time came to pay that bonus, they decided to pay about 10% of what that bonus was supposed to be. They used the rest to pay people who were still there, because those people were still committed.
Loyalty is part of commitment. Loyalty to the company that is. The company’s loyalty to you lasts only so long as you’re needed.
A funny thing happened after that layoff. I got married. I had kids. I had a life. I joined Forrester, where I worked very hard, but set limits. I was loyal to them for 20 years, and they were loyal to me for 20 years. They weren’t a startup. But the total equity payoff from that job, which I wasn’t counting on, ended up two orders of magnitude larger than from the startups.
This guy is committed too. But not too smart.
The Boston Celtics are in the NBA finals. And I, like the chicken, am involved. I’m staying up late to watch games and reading everything I can about how they got here.
If you don’t follow the NBA, know that the Celtics started this season looking like a .500 team. Then they came to life. They had an incredible run of success, worked hard, and had a bit of luck — and that paid off as they reached the finals against the Golden State Warriors, winners of the NBA championship in 2015, 2017, and 2018.
The Warriors are the favorites in Las Vegas. Watching the game last night, I heard all five of ESPN’s talking heads pick the Warriors to beat the Celtics.
Jack Bienvenue of Wellfleet, Massachusetts, disagrees. He got this tattoo way back on March 21, when the Boston Celtics had just begun to turn their troubled season around. And one game into the finals — a game the Celtics pulled out with maximum effort, talent, and poise — he is beginning to look prescient.
I’m sure the Celtics are going to win because he got inked.
But it’s far from sure what the ending of this series will be. If the Celtics win, his tattoo will seem like a typical tribute to the winners he supported. If they lose, he’ll have a permanent reminder of just how much his commitment mattered.
That’s commitment for you.
The limits of commitment
The problem with stories about commitment is survivorship bias.
People who exhibit commitment and then have incredible success will tell you they could not have succeeded without that commitment.
But those who are committed and fail — you never hear their stories. You never hear what they gave up just to lose.
Honestly, I do want you to believe in what you are doing.
I want you to work long hours if you feel you can and want to. I want you to feel as involved as you possibly can be in your company’s success. Right up to the point where the cost to yourself is too high to bear. Stop there.
I don’t want you to neglect your family or your health.
However committed you are, you really don’t want to be as committed as the pig.
I’m sure the bacon-and-egg breakfast was delicious, especially the bacon. But the pig probably didn’t enjoy it as much as the people who made it and ate it.