Entitlement vs Engagement – lessons from sandcastles

Sand working culture: if you start digging, they will come.

Found this great answer on Quora which illustrates nicely the difference between a culture of entitlement and culture of engagement. In answering a question about “What kind of jobs do the software engineers who earn $500k per year do?“, an ex-Googler Amin Ariana retells a story about a lad building a sandcastle on a beach.

The chap just starts digging on his own. He’s not like the other normals mooching about on the beach building solitary one-bucket sandcastles. He has his own vision and just starts working on creating a massive structure with a moat and an enormous trench down to water.

Now, whilst Armin uses the story to illustrate a point about ‘fairness’ in rewards for startup founders vs workers who feel entitled to higher wages, I see something else here. This single lad is not letting the fact that he is only one person stop him from attempting to build something much bigger than he ‘should’. He is engaged with a vision.

30 minutes of hard work later, he’s got the beginnings of a channel down to the water to fill his moat. At this point some watching kids pile in (because they’re the ones with imagination and excitement for new things and love getting swept up) and start digging with the lad to create a deeper, stronger channel.

10 minutes later and some of the adults without baggage start piling in and 15 minutes after that even random tourists are getting involved.

Within an hour from starting, this one lad had persuaded, just through his actions, around 15 people to get involved in his vision – and they all did, without requiring ‘selling’ on the concept or needing training. They were bystanders, unknowingly waiting for someone to provide something more than they were prepared to give on their own.

Armin uses the story to illustrate what he calls ‘Type 1’ vs ‘Type 2’ worker behaviour:

The overlooked detail is that not all sweat creates equal value. Type 2 worker was willing to break some rules, becoming an outcast and going hungry for an indeterminate period of time to create [something]. Type 1 Worker expects to “get paid” … by performing “skills” or “tasks”.

The Type 1s are waiting to be entertained, doing the same old things you do on a beach, not challenging themselves. The Type 2 lad ignores all this and just gets on with creating something new. His industry, the expression of vision through behaviour, leads to him inspiring engagement from other people and a better overall outcome: all the bystanders now feel part of something having created together something that could not be achieved in the same time individually.

Engagement creates energy which pulls in other people in the vicinity. Entitlement creates apathy.

When you can minimise the sense of entitlement in your culture, people will make stuff happen for themselves.