It didn't work. In frustration you reach for your cup of tea and find only the dregs, long cold. You write another email to your co-workers explaining why the latest attempt at a fix failed. Usually writing it out helps you think of something else to try. Nothing new comes to mind. It goes in the Sent folder next to the other three un-replied-to messages from tonight.

You lean back and close your eyes trying not to think about the call from your boss.

Look, I know it's probably complex and hard but we really don't care about the details, we just need it to work.

Facing a problem alone has never bothered you, but you're not alone are you? Your wife and children are sleeping upstairs. If you can't figure this out and the company collapses, then what happens to them? Certainly not that trip to Disney or the American Girl dolls for Christmas.

Opening your eyes you see it's 2:37 AM. You've got nothing left and sleeping is better than feeling sorry for yourself. Standing, you reach for your mug.

The flash comes.

You're back at the keyboard, leaning forward. You see the connection. You're not sure yet. But you are sure—you've never been more sure of anything. You laugh. It's so simple. You put the patch together and push it to production. It's fixed. You were so stupid not to see it sooner, but that doesn't matter, it only matters that it works. You write your triumphant email. Wired, you sit and watch it work. You finally head to bed after four.

Instead of a hero's greeting when you enter the office you are ushered into a the conference room and grilled about the fix.

What makes you so sure it won't happen again?

You are happy to explain. But no matter how clearly you explain the situation the hostility and uncertaintly remains. A wild thought occurs to you; they seem dissapointed that your fix hasn't retroactively wiped the problem out of existence. You realize again—you don't understand people.

So what is the status of your current project? We'll need to catch that back up.

Current Project? You vaguely remember you were working on something else before the crisis. You promise to give people updates after you get your bearings. You go to your office and sit back and close your eyes, trying not to be annoyed at the idea that you are now behind on your project, or what is meant by "we."

I've been here, more times than I care to think about. This is not a specific story in my life, but it is every heroic work story. An emergency creates clarity by forcing exclusive focus on a single goal. You can learn more about the way your systems work in one crisis than you might in a whole year. And it's exhilirating beyond description to face down the stress of an impossible problem and come up with the answer. But the hard truth is, working this way is a huge mistake. You not only harm yourself, but you have made the company and the the product, which you're willing to bleed for, worse.

Possibly you are that hero or you work at a company with one. Maybe you want to do the heroic things. It's exciting and you get to break all the rules. And you seem to have a limitless supply of the confidence needed to relentlessly seek an answer. But there's a reason you work with other people, and when heroic individual effort is always necessary to stave of disaster it's a symptom of a greater sickness in the company.

Sure it's great to watch superhero movies. But you certainly don't want to live in Gotham City—that place is a real mess. If you are that hero, the best thing you can do is learn how to disconnect the Batphone; it will not only improve your own life, but it's the only chance to save that company and really build something great.

This story will serve as the manifesto for Boldocity. For fifteen years I have strived to become the tragic hero depicted in this story. But recently I have started to understand that working this way is a mistake. The articles I write in the coming weeks will work on illustrating why I've made these claims. Hopefully as I am able to more fully explore the issue through writing I will learn and explain the right way to do heroic work.

AuthorKevin McAllister