“Predictably Irrational” is one of my favorite non-fiction books and it’s author Dan Ariely, an esteemed behavioral economist, recently gave a TEDx presentation about the motivations of work beyond just money. Although the presentation itself holds a lot of merit, I want to draw attention to his interesting story of an unnamed “big software company in Seattle”.
Due to the timing, location and scale of the operation described, I believe the story to be of the infamous Microsoft “Courier” skunkworks project which was officially confirmed and cancelled in 2010.
According to Dan, he visited the team a week after the CEO, presumably Steve Ballmer, cancelled the project and shared this behind-the-scenes insight of that team’s dampened spirits.
The story starts at 7min46sec into the video (embedded below for your convinience)
…I went to talk to a big software company in Seattle. I can’t tell you who they were, but they were a big company in Seattle. And this was a group within this software company that was put in a different building. And they asked them to innovate and create the next big product for this company. And the week before I showed up, the CEO of this big software company went to that group, 200 engineers, and canceled the project. And I stood there in front of 200 of the most depressed people I’ve ever talked to.
If the project was indeed the Courier, then the abrupt cancellation appears to have had a huge impact on the team of 200 that is claimed to have worked on the project. Employees later showed up to work later, went home earlier and even splurged more at the company’s expense.
Of course Dan also has some informal advice for the CEO,
…And I think the CEO basically did not understand the importance of meaning. If the CEO, just like our participants, thought the essence of meaning is unimportant, then he [wouldn’t] care. And he would tell them, “At the moment I directed you in this way, and now that I am directing you in this way, everything will be okay.” But if you understood how important meaning is, then you would figure out that it’s actually important to spend some time, energy and effort in getting people to care more about what they’re doing.