Logic of Appropriateness

Heart & Brain on Scale

It was July and I was in Berlin for the WooTrip, an annual gathering of all my coworkers working on WooCommerce. I was meeting new people, I was learning… and I was also planning on leaving.

That week, I had a choice to make. One option was a rock and the other a hard place.

Paranoid About Money

First, it's important to understand my mental state at the time.

I wasn't just planning to leave my job – I was planning to strike out on my own.

And I was completely paranoid about money. It was also only a few months after I bought a condo. I had been planning that for a few years and it still drained my savings account.

I had no proof that I knew how to make any money on my own.

I would likely be throwing away the best job I ever had. I didn't know if I could handle being jobless, either financially or emotionally.

I was planning on working for another 6 weeks and I wanted to give Automattic a 2 week notice. The wrinkle is that the grand meetup was coming up. And everyone had to book airfare. Someone from HR already pinged me asking why I hadn't booked my airfare and I had a decision to make.

  1. Tell them I want to leave now, 4 weeks earlier than I'd planned, and face the consequences
  2. Book airfare I'll never use to avoid the conversation

Consequences vs Appropriateness

Here's where being a logical human being is a bad thing.

When you think about consequences you act conservatively. When you look at a situation and say, “I can do the right thing or I can do the thing without risk,” it's hard to pick the right thing.

Now you might think that me giving a slightly longer notice isn't that big of a deal. Let me set the scene.

When I left my first job out of college. I gave them a 4-week notice because I was so grateful. They fired me the next day and I was unemployed between Thanksgiving & Xmas.

The week before WooTrip, a coworker left and he was removed from Slack so fast I didn't have a chance to say good bye.

So I was scared.

I wanted to do the right thing but given my past experiences I didn't really see any upside. Automattic is a billion dollar company. They can afford a couple hundred on a flight right?

If I had relied on logic alone I would have bought the plane ticket and avoided the conversation with HR.

But there's another way to think about your actions – the logic of appropriateness. Instead of asking, “What could go wrong if I choose A?”. You ask, “What does a person like me do in a situation like this?”. 

I consider myself a good worker. My grandpa always said, “if a job is worth doing it's worth doing well”. And I appreciate my midwestern work ethic. So I asked, “What does a person with a strong work ethic do in a situation like this?”


So I used the logic of appropriateness and I decided to tell them. Sure I could instantly be fired and I'd lose out of 6 weeks of pay. But I didn't want to screw Automattic because I was scared. I wanted to do the right thing and hope that they did the right thing in return.

And guess what? I was totally right. They understood and appreciated my forwardness. I finished my 6 weeks and both of us went on our merry way.

I'd like to think that the people at Automattic think I have integrity. That I am that hard worker I say I am.

Next Chapter

A few months after I left they reached out to me and wanted to know if I'd help them with a project.

They wanted to know if I could use my e-commerce expertise and help them plan the content for WooConf.

And I said yes.

WooConf will be this fall, probably in Seattle. 

See you there – and in the meantime when you face a decision don't just ask what could go wrong. You'll always act conservatively. Also ask what a person like you does in a situation like that.

4 thoughts on “Logic of Appropriateness

  1. Kind of sounds like the ol’ Golden Rule. 🙂

    I’m so glad to hear you’ll have a hand in the next WooConf! I have benefitted greatly from your excellent work on the previous event.

    • Thanks Doug!

      It is pretty similar to the golden rule. Although I’ve always thought of the golden rule in the abstract. It’s so much harder to follow when there’s something tangible the line (ex several weeks pay).

  2. I even got a little nervous just reading the situation – good call. 🙂

    • Thanks!

      I definitely considered the easy way out. I’m really happy I learned about the logic of appropriateness a few months earlier. Helped me frame things and make the better decision. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.