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Who's the Hero Here?

Jeff Bonforte gave an excellent talk at the Facebook At Scale Conference. The entire talk is worth watching, but to me the most important part comes at 16:45, where he talks about the issues with hero culture and rewarding "firefighters".

…but Dakar was the fundamental thing, and everyone said "you were so smart for doing Dakar," I was like "I don't think I was smart, I was just kind-of…panicked," like, we had to get this stuff under control. We had to stop, and I'm going to talk about this in a second.

Because, at Yahoo—and maybe it's like this for some of you—if I said, "Who's the hero here?" we'd all say the fireman is the hero, or the fireperson is the hero, not the architect overlooking his brand new campus, Facebook—that's actually Frank Gehry—but that's exactly wrong, like we were glorifying—we were giving bonuses and awards to all the firefighters out there who would stay up seven nights in a row to get services back up and running. I'm like, "you know what we should do? have fewer fires" because if we didn't have to hire only firemen here, only heroes, only people that would go in and risk their careers and lives to go in and extract that one email attachment from Aunt Sarah to Jenny, like, it would be better right?

And so that was the other fundamentals which was we—every time we found ourselves celebrating a firefighter in the company I kept telling Marissa, "That's a firefighter reward we're about to do," she's like "You're so right; we're not rewarding the long time thinkers the long-term fixes," we were rewarding all the heroes.

And many people at Yahoo had made their career by being firefighters and in fact had no interest in getting rid of the drama. They wouldn't admit to it, it's not a conscious thing, it's a subconscious thing. They lived on the adrenaline rush of the fix, and the big, and the "I'm so important I'm the only one who knows how to get into this thing and …" So that was an important piece.