Tonight, I am a virgin.
I’m in attendance at Kiwi Foo: the New Zealand iteration of the seminal un-conference whose agenda is created entirely by its attendees and whose value, therefore, lies in the caliber of its guest list. As you can imagine, I felt pretty honored to get an invitation -- and tonight, as festivities kicked off, I also felt the way about-to-be-deflowered people have felt from time immemorial, wondering: “How exactly are we expected to behave here?”
Luckily, at Kiwi Foo you are given guidance. “We operate on the principle of FrieNDA,” intoned our fearless leader, Nat Torkington. Tim O’Reilly clarified further. “You know how people have Non-Disclosure Agreements -- NDAs -- that they make you sign? Where you agree not to share anything you discuss? Here it’s FrieNDA. Basically, if someone says something they regret, and asks you not to tell anyone, you don’t, because that’s how friends behave. If somebody does something embarrassing, before you blog it or Facebook it, you ask them, ‘Hey, do you mind if this goes public?’ And then you respect their response.”
Nat jumped back in. “It’s pretty easy to sum up, really. Just don’t be a dick.”
“Don’t be a dick,” is an awesome mantra -- in my opinion, far better than “Don’t be evil.” After all, there’s such a huge range of dickish things you can do -- but shouldn’t -- before you cross the line into evil. And, “Don’t be a dick” promotes accountability. It puts the burden on you to listen to that little voice inside that says, “You know what? It might not be cool for me to tweet that picture of a drunken politician.” It makes each of us responsible for our own behavior. It calls on us to be introspective.
It’s such a good tenet, in fact, that it’s one of the explicit company values, inscribed on the walls, of Trade Me, New Zealand’s version of eBay. Later in the evening, I was talking with Mike O’Donnell, Trade Me’s head of operations. He was telling me about Landcheck, a website the company built for CERA, the Earthquake Recovery Authority in Christchurch.
Basically, when the data came out from the government about which houses could stay standing and which ones had to be demolished, residents needed a site they could check to determine whether their houses were goners. The guys at Trade Me got a call for help from the Prime Minister’s office late on a Saturday night, built the site in four days and got it live two hours prior to the Prime Minister’s public announcement. The site received 2 million unique visitors in the first four hours; Trade Me ran it for three months and then turned it over to CERA.
“And you did all this philanthropically, just gifted it to them?” I ask. “Well, yeah,” he says. “You know what?” I reply, heartfelt. “You guys are awesome. That was really great of you.”
Mike shrugs and looks down at his feet. “Yeah, well,” he says, clearly a little embarrassed. “It was the right thing to do.”
This is the kind of culture you get when, “Don’t be a dick” is embedded in your company’s core values. You get people who ask themselves what’s needed, and then pull out all the stops to help their community. You get people who step up when up needs to be stepped. You get people who do things just because they’re the right things to do.
Don’t be a dick. Trust me. It’s a great way to live.