Burned-out Superman

There is a scene in Richard Donner’s Superman 2 where a kid is fooling around on the edge of the Niagara Falls. He’s doing some irresponsible, risky shenanigans. The audience knows it’s not going to end well.

When he finally falls down, Lois is crying for help and the bystanders are frozen in fear. Superman swoops in, saves the little brat and something remarkable happens. The crowd cheers and the kid screams: “Again!”. No lessons were learned.

Most companies have these Supermen in their ranks. They clean up the mess left by the irresponsibles. They go out of their way to prevent the bad becoming worse. They save the day and burn out like a candle.

Burn-out is a curse on our industry. If you’ve worked in tech for a few years, you know people who “took a few weeks off”. They were “out” for a while.

Building software is a creative process and follows a different logic than working with shareholders. There is a natural friction between the predictability of upper management and the rock ‘n roll of building products. This tension is absorbed by elastic bands that hold the company together. Until they snap.

I don’t have an answer on how to solve this. What I do know is that the right reaction doesn’t involve “Way to go, Superman!”.

The kid needs parenting. The crowd needs to step up. Sometimes we need to save Superman.



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