The Ability to Be Critical of Yourself

Basecamp CEO Jason Fried on the response a potential hire gave after working on a paid ‘homework assignment’ to test her skills:

It takes real confidence and self-awareness to talk to someone who’s considering hiring you and telling them that you aren’t sure you like what you did. We dug into it. It wasn’t the idea at large — she was very happy with that — it was a specific flow, a specific part of the design. She did it, but she wasn’t thrilled with it.

That’s how I feel about a lot of my work too. Especially in the early phases. I designed something, or I wrote something, but I’m not sure I really like it yet. While it’s easy to tell yourself that, it’s hard to tell someone else that — especially if they’re evaluating your work.

First off, it’s great Basecamp pays designers for design tests they’re given during the interview process. I’ve done many for potential employers where I’ve never been paid.

Secondly, Jason touches on a topic I’ve talked about with junior designers before which is the ability to be critical of yourself and understanding you and your work are not one and the same.

Part of being a great designer is being able to take criticism: from yourself and from others. You have to know how to listen.



“Treat chat like a sauna — stay a while but then get out.”

Last week Basecamp CEO Jason Fried published a great piece on all the ways group chat applications like Slack are bad.

The whole piece is a must-read, but here’s one nugget:

Many chat platforms put a little green dot next to people telling you they are online/available. That’s called presence, and it’s worse than you might expect. It’s professional pressure to stay logged into chat. It’s saying “if you aren’t green, you aren’t at work”. Quitting chat suggests you aren’t part of the group. And that pressure forces you to keep a chat room open all day. Which forces you to absorb the blows of all-day distractions while you’re trying to actually get the work done you’re supposed to be doing. It’s just a modern version of the outdated butts in seats. Sure you can say do not disturb, but the true version of do not disturb is quitting the app.

In the world of technology, I believe there are very view examples of ‘the good old days’. Computers were always slower and monitors were always lower resolution than they are now. Always. I should know because I’ve been on computers since 1981.

There’s one example that bucks this trend: instant messaging. I miss the days of AIM, aka AOL Instant Messenger. What I miss about AIM is explicitly signing on and signing off. In fact, that was an explicit declaration I used to make with my friends and coworkers when were were mid-chat and ready to sign off, “OK, Mark. I’m out. Late.”

This world doesn’t exist anymore. We’re always online and always available. Apple’s Messages app even gives you the ability to send read confirmations on iMessages you’ve received and opened. I turned this option off years ago.

It’s important for a company to have a strong culture defined so employees clearly understand the rules around instant messaging and the environment such rules aim to establish.

Shit, do I have to spell it out for these people?

Yes. Yes you do.

The fact that Jason Fried wrote the piece mentioned above and he’s the CEO of his company makes a world of difference than if he were just a designer or project manager. Company culture is established at the top, and communicated to the rest of the company. It never happens the other way around.