Automattic is a fully distributed company; we all work from where ever we are, any flat surface with access to the internet. This comes with many benefits, as well as some curious downsides, but one of the most interesting things is the way that a fully global, exclusively-online working community interacts socially.
Like any group who spends time on the internet (ie in 2014, most groups) we are exposed to different memes and cultural references, and like any group, we create our own sort of tropes and references and inside jokes. One of these is “+t +d.”
“+t +d” on the most superficial level is an abbreviation of an abbreviation – you begin with “Totally, Definitely,” which is reduced to save time and increase it’s cool factor, to “Totes Def,” which of course is naturally shortened even further to “+t +d.”
Yes, there are those who see this as an affront against the English language, a further breakdown of the same sort as emoji and text message shorthand. There’s something to that – I can see it both ways. However, I think that looking at this piece of the Automattic Lexicon and seeing it only as a shorthand is missing a bigger piece of the message here.
“+t +d” represents to me not just a quick affirmation, but rather an aspirational view of the way that Automatticians (and I would suggest all remote workers) have to approach The Work. “+t +d” is our version of “Yes, and…” the cornerstone to all great improvisational comedy. It represents a necessary positivity that absolutely needs to be injected into all of our work, and all of our interactions.
Working with people almost exclusively through text means that you have to be generous; you have to read only what’s on the page, and make assumptions only when they are justified and work toward a goal. It’s very easy to slip into negativity and read a message into a sentence that simply isn’t there – but if you maintain a sense of positivity, an ingrained automatic response of “Totally, definitely,” things work. Things flow. Great stuff is created.
Working with distributed teams on cohesive products means that you have to make space for error, and for oversight, and for outright missteps. Your response to these things cannot be defensive or accusatory, but rather “+t +d, what can I do to help?” – “+t +d, how can we fix this?” – pushing for the positive, for the tide that lifts us all rather than the torpedo that sinks.
Rick Steves, reknowned travel author and someone I consider a role model, talks about the need for militant optimism in travel – this resonates with me when I think about The Work. I think that “+t +d” is our militant optimism. It’s not always easy, and I’ve certainly fallen victim to defensiveness and pointing of fingers – but I try to stay positive. We all do. And from that trying, we’re able to work together, from all around the world, to make things that simply did not exist before.
+t +d everybody.