On Validation

Today I just wanted to share a few thoughts on a much under-used and sometimes overlooked component in growing great communities: validation.

Every community is an organically grouped bundle of people, many of which spend their free time choosing to be part of that community. With the majority of communities being associative volunteer-based groups, our contributors basically make a decision to sacrifice time with other things in their life to be around our communities. They spend their time away from their families and friends and compelling distractions in the form of video games, movies, restaurants, sports and more to help make our community that little bit more awesome than it was yesterday. In a nutshell, we should never forget the incredible contributions our volunteers make.

Often when we want to improve how our communities work we focus in on the workflow, processeses, governance and other nuts and bolts of how we collaborate together. While important, I think it is important that we don’t lose sight over one of the most fundamental elements in building great community: validate great work.

Every day in each of our communities we see incredible people doing incredible things. These contributions shape the very world in which we live in. They shape the things we click on, the things we listen to, the things we read and the emotions we develop from all of this and other stimulus. With such incredible people doing such incredible things, it is tempting to take a somewhat engineering focused approach to things: to identify areas of improvement, to draft actions and strategy, and to constantly focus on highlighting the to-be-improved as opposed to the to-be-celebrated. While this is important, it is equally important to simply tell people when they are doing a great job. They love it, you feel great for making them feel great and we all get to feel those little hairs on the back of our necks stand on end for a little while.

There are two important things to remember though when validating people. Firstly, there doesn’t need to be a reason. If your brain just randomly notices or remembers that something is great or that someone is doing a great job, go ahead and validate it. We all love validation, and a random piece of validation right out of the blue is often a welcome surprise. In fact, there has been times when I have validated someone’s work and they have responded with “I was having a really shitty day and that was exactly what I needed to pick me up“. We all have shitty days and we all value these pick-me-ups. Secondly, you don’t have to be well known, prominent or a leader to offer validation. Everyone and anyone can validate others: this is not a status thing, it is a human thing. And importantly, those who do lead and guide us need validating too. Irrespective of what we do or what we say, we are all big bags of skin and bones, we all have good and bad times, and we all feel warm and fuzzy and someone says “you know what, I just wanted to tell you I appreciate what you do and keep up the good work“.

So, that is all really. Lets see if each of us can ramp up how much we validate each other. There is so much awesome community work going on, there is certainly plenty to validate. :-)

  • http://identi.ca/notice/7263578 Jono Bacon (jonobacon) ‘s status on Thursday, 30-Jul-09 18:39:55 UTC – Identi.ca

    [...] On Validation – the importance of saying "you are awesome" – http://www.jonobacon.org/2009/07/30/on-validation/ [...]

  • http://missionarybroadcasting.com Chris

    Very good post, Jono. I’m thinking of several people I need to thank today. I appreciate the reminder.

    Chris – Fairbanks, Alaska

  • http://www.Amendt.net King Arthur

    You gave a great talk at Floss Weekly (http://www.twit.tv/FLOSS) yesterday. Thanks! Your a great ambassador for Ubuntu etc.

  • Jerome Haltom

    I want to offer a counter to this. Another side. I don’t work this way. Validation to me is extranous, useless, and usually appears to me nothing more than forced. I do know that that makes me different than most other people, but I want to highlight that in fact not ALL people follow the rules you outlined.

    When I was hired at my current job, my boss made a point to note that he would never offer validation about anything I do. No pats on the back. No employee awards. I have to be there because I like to succeed, and because I like the work, and because I want to get paid. He made a very notable point about this. I’ve been here 5 years now and it’s the best job I’ve had.

    When we interview people, we make sure to point out the same thing. It’s just not the type of people we are. It’s not the type of work environment we have. And frankly, we like it this way.

    So, don’t be so black and white in applying how you feel about things to how other people might do so. Everybody is different. Being a good manager is about realizing that and finding the people who fit into your particular environment and work style the best, not just blindly patting people on the back or giving out gift certificates.

  • http://mdzlog.alcor.net/ Matt Zimmerman

    I agree with your sentiment, though I’m not sure that the phrase “validate great work” is the best one to describe what you mean here.

    To validate something is to show that it is valid (e.g. truthful, accurate, logical, justifiable, etc), whereas you’re pointing out the need to let people know that their work is appreciated, meaningful, effective.

    So let’s praise and appreciate rather than validate.

    Also, it’s good to remember that it’s the people we want to reward and motivate, not the work.

    Therefore instead of validating this article, I appreciate you for writing it. Doesn’t that feel better? :-)

  • http://identi.ca/notice/7264890 Brion Vibber (brionv) ‘s status on Thursday, 30-Jul-09 19:07:55 UTC – Identi.ca

    [...] RT @jonobacon On Validation – the importance of saying "you are awesome" – http://www.jonobacon.org/2009/07/30/on-validation/ [...]

  • http://www.aoirthoir.com Joseph James Frantz

    Jono bingo. I pointed this out just a couple days ago at another blog. Too often our efforts are just ignored, or we feel like they are. Hearing that we are doing a good job is important. Lack of appreciation is one of the main causes for burnout, and leaving a particular place of employment.

    MDZ, validating the work as well as the person is important. A compliment not based on anything often strikes as being insincere. But stating what we appreciate with specificity lets the person know we truly do appreciate them AND the work that they have done has value to us.

    Jerome you are right to point out this is not a one or the other issue. Some do not need to be thanked. In your case you were made aware of this ahead of time, so it is less likely to be taken personal. Still the hard work you do is probably validated in other ways. One way is simply through use, being asked to participate on project is in itself one reward that tells you others see value in what you’ve done. Of course the money itself is a great reward. As long as it is spelt out in the beginning, what the rules are, people are more likely to realize they are appreciated even when not told with those exact words.

    Even other ways include things like saying “Yeah that’s a good idea,” “I think that will work,” “that’s just what we need,” and other similar points that aren’t really “compliments”.

  • http://www.sphericalcow.net David Smith

    I agree validation is very important to communities. I would like to add that we should not validate for validation sake. I think receiving validation that’s too generic (“Great job on that project”) often falls flat and engineers especially feel the emptiness of this. Being specific (“I really liked how you handled this situation by doing …”) works on two levels: you’ve praised the person for their work and you’ve shown them their work was important enough to gain your attention.

  • http://denny.me Denny

    Awesome post :)

  • Jerome Haltom

    @Joseph

    Well yeah, I take pride in my work. But not because anybody goes out of their way to tell me so, but because I enjoy building things and taking ownership of them.

    But this happens without any concious effort on anybody’s part, so there’s no reason to go out of your way to do it.

  • http://www.aoirthoir.com Joseph James Frantz

    David Smith, Yup.

    Jerome while I agree with you, I know the quality of my work and I am self satisfied, the occasional thank you, or “we like the program” is just and refreshing. It also tells me that I am moving the code in the right direction. This is important because, as hard as it is to believe, there are times I’ve written something that’s not user friendly. So those thank yous tell me to continue how I am going.

  • http://mjd.almatech.net.au Matthew Davidson

    I agree with Matt Zimmerman that there’s a difference between appreciation, which is what you’re talking about here, and validation, which one could define as “respect for the person who contributes, regardless of the value of any one contribution”.

    Without validation: “That’s a bad idea.”

    With validation: “Thanks for the suggestion, but I think that would be a bad idea. Here’s why…”

  • ethana2

    ~doctormo and ~fabricesp, you guys are awesome.

  • http://doctormo.wordpress.com Martin Owens

    Ethana2: No particular reason? Just general Awesomness? Cool :-)

    Jerome Haltom – It’s nice that you have a job that works with different rewards. But humans don’t tend to work like that, the people I know tend to have socialising wired directly into their emotive behaviour. Without validation they’ll end up on the Burnout path section 1. not getting recognition and thus seeking it more and more.

    Jono, a very clear presentation of ideas. Thank you.

  • skierpage

    OnValidation is a MS Windows Forms event. You’re more talking about showing appreciation.

    SPage’s Law: Everyone feels underappreciated, so lavish appreciation on others even though you won’t get anything in return since you too are suffering under SPage’s law.

    Fernando: You look marrrvelous!

  • http://www.DreadKnight666.com Dread Knight

    Really awesome post :) Cheers!

  • Jerome Haltom

    @Martin

    Ahh. I solve my burn out problems using beer and recreational drugs. To each his own, I guess.

  • http://cubestuff.wordpress.com Jakub

    Awesome post, and great picture :P

  • http://www.aoirthoir.com Joseph James Frantz

    Martin, I think the difference in Jerome’s case is that he knows going in what the situation is. If I found myself in that kind of situation, the thanks would be the kinds of projects I was offered.

    Nevertheless I agree with you that most generally we need to know that we are appreciated. There is a LOT of talk lately about how not to burn out. Study after study after study for decades across the spectrum, from psychological publications, to real world business, to employee polls and on and on have shown that one of the major factors (if not the single most important one) contributing to burnout is simply not hearing “Thank you” from one’s employer or manager. This leads to more job turnover and dissatisfaction than almost any other factor.

    So while I can understand how it isn’t a huge factor in Jerome’s case, the knowledge ahead of time that he won’t hear it, I realize that in most cases it’s just best to show appreciation. So I advocate it whenever I can. And overall I am glad for the positive response to showing appreciation I’m seeing in these posts.

  • http://amber.redvoodoo.org Amber Graner

    Jono,

    Loved the post and for what it is worth you are a great example of letting people know what you are thankful for, appreciate and showing that their ideas are worth while.

    Call it validation, appreciation, or just gratitude – I personally am not a machine and I want to be appreciated and I want my ideas to be validated.

    I know what it means when people tell me I am doing a good job at something and that they appreciate my efforts.

    There is I think a difference when you are in a volunteer role. People need to feel like their time has meant something and in areas where people don’t receive monies for their efforts then positive reinforcement goes a long way. When people are giving up time they could be spending with family and friends they don’t get that time back. People need to feel like it was worth it especially if while working on a particular project there are tensions or stressful situations. How do you show them they are valued if you can’t pay them? How do you show them they are a valued member of the team? Validation, Appreciation, and Gratitude are just a few of the ways..

    Thanks again Jono..

  • But…

    Dude, sounds like you’ve already been living in America way too long…

    If I want my ego stroked, I’ll ask my wife, not an engineer.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbk980jV7Ao Sunshine Olsen

    Good for you!! Way to motivate! I thought of this movie when i read your blog – when u have a chance – watch it – its great!!

  • http://www.smartdefine.org/bacon Bacon

    There is a LOT of talk lately about how not to burn out, that’s true