In 1992, I started a custom software development company out of my basement. I started it because I was angry. At a relatively young age, I was already keenly aware of the gross dysfunction that existed in most organizations. I didn't want to be a part of that. I wanted to be a part of something different; something better. I had no plan, but I had an abundance of temerity.
Our progression over the years was adventurous, romantic, and stupid. Moving into our first real office. Housing my partner in my basement. Running out of gas on the way back from a critical meeting because we didn't have enough cash to fill the tank. The victories. The losses. The camaraderie. The angst among us.
By 1997, we were close to 20 people. Tiny, yes, but I felt it was too big for me to handle at the time. I was 29 years old with no formal education and limited "real-world" experience. My penchant for self doubt was getting the better of me; temerity had been replaced by timidity.
In a moment of melancholy and introspection, I sat down and drafted the following. It was my intention to express a core set of values to the employees of my fledgling company. And I do suppose it served that purpose. But it was the first time I had committed to paper the things I was looking for in a company. Perhaps the things I was looking for in life.
... are the foundation for all decisions. They serve as the compass that guides us through our personal and professional lives. All action; all thought; in every way we represent ourselves; we must represent our values.
Find the answer that best serves all parties. Act upon your highest sense of right.
Grow continuously, personally and professionally, in small ways. Evolution is the sum of many tiny, nearly indiscernible adjustments.
Seek new ways; seek new means; do the unexpected.
Present your ideas. Put forth the extra effort. The one who makes the most mistakes, learns the most lessons.
Answer for your mistakes and your deserved praise will come.
Seek to understand and assist. Do not condemn others for their differences. To criticize and dismiss leaves neither party better off.
Become truly involved. Make this your team, for it already is.
Honor your coworkers and clients.
Make your life rich in many ways. Seek new experiences, new relationships, and a new perspective. Then bring it back and teach others.
And always, Tell The Truth.
- Michael J. Norton (1997)
In 2001, we closed the company. The values statement had been posted on my wall for several years. It had become invisible. Sitting in the same place year after year, it was no different than the pencil holder on my desk. I could look in the general direction and not consciously recognize it was there. Only when I specifically sought it out did I truly see it. And I had stopped seeking it out.
By the time we officially closed the company, I had returned to corporate America, seeking knowledge, wealth, and (most of all) security. As I noted, temerity had long since given way to timidity.
For several years, I climbed the ladder making my way to CTO. I kept the values statement in my day planner. But it was still invisible. I did not seek it out. And when I stumbled upon it, I glanced and moved on. I felt that most around me were living by a different set of values and that perhaps I was too naive and idealistic.
In 2009, I was let go. I should have resigned of my own will, but I was too much a coward, so they provided me the opportunity.
I was feeling melancholy and introspective and for the first time in nearly a decade, I looked at my values statement again. I mean really looked at it.
And I changed my life.
I do work that allows me to share these values with others in indirect ways. I surround myself with people who represent who and what I wish to be.
And I make sure that I take the statement out every so often and look at it. I mean really look at it. Melancholy not required.