Thinker in Residence: Richard Sheridan

Sally Haldorson

January 15, 2014


Richard Sheridan, author of Joy, Inc. is the CEO, Chief Storyteller and co-founder of Menlo Innovations. Here's his story: Rich knew at 13 years old what he was going to do the rest of his career when he typed in a two-line program into a Teletype and the computer came back and typed back “HI RICH”.

RS Richard Sheridan, author of Joy, Inc. is the CEO, Chief Storyteller and co-founder of Menlo Innovations. Here's his story: Rich knew at 13 years old what he was going to do the rest of his career when he typed in a two-line program into a Teletype and the computer came back and typed back "HI RICH". He was hooked. A year later, after having typed the entire Baseball Register into the computer, he won an international gaming contest for what would now be termed Fantasy Baseball. The amazing thing is that this all happened by 1972. In 1973, Rich landed his first job as a programmer, creating the first email system at the Macomb Intermediate School District, a decade before the term email would even be close to a household word. He couldn't believe people would pay him to do something he just loved to do as a hobby. He went on to obtain a Bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Michigan and then followed that by earning his Master's degree in computer engineering. After graduating, he worked his way through a number of Ann Arbor technology companies, ending up at Interface Systems. At the midpoint of his career rise, he wanted out. He no longer experienced the joy that had first drawn him to programming as a kid. His work life was filled with weekends away from family, disappointed colleagues and projects that were always in trouble. After being promoted to VP of Software Development, Rich was inspired to pursue a lasting change in the organization and restore the joy he initially found in his job and industry. His investigation led him to different books, videos, and methodologies that opened his eyes to a new approach for running his team. He was delighted to see lasting change within his team. By early 2001, however, the Internet bubble burst and Interface System's new Silicon Valley parent company shuttered every remote office it had. The beautiful, high-flying experiment that Rich and his team had run was over. For the first time in a thirty-year technical career, Rich was without a job. Rich knew that he had been on to something at Interface Systems. He had learned how to build a great team with a joyful culture. So he decided to do it again by starting his own company with three partners. On June 12, 2001 Menlo Innovations LLC was born. He and his partners decided that the company's purpose would be to bring joy to the world through software, and to teach this method to others. Rich was featured on the cover of Forbes magazine in 2003, sharing his "hire yourself" story with the world. Menlo has gone on to win the Alfred P. Sloan award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility for eight straight years and has earned five revenue awards from Inc. magazine. Rich spends the majority of his time sharing the Menlo Way through teaching classes, leading tours, speaking at conferences and mentoring entrepreneurs in the community and sharing joy!

"Yet at the midpoint of this career rise, I wanted out. My chosen field had betrayed me. I was in a trough of disillusionment, trapped in a career that had no joy, and I couldn't leave."

Recommending Joy, Inc. -- our Jack Covert Selects review:

Depending on whom you ask, joy in the workplace may or may not be considered crucial to an organization's bottom line. More traditional workplace strategies first focus on what's "best for the company," with benefits to employees seen as peripheral. Joy can be had, certainly, but it's not often considered the company's responsibility to provide it to employees because it's not considered profitable. But, what if increased joy actually led to higher productivity, increased quality, and greater profitability? This is exactly what Richard Sheridan describes in Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love.

At forty years old, Richard Sheridan exhibited the benchmarks of what many consider success. From the outsider's perspective, things were going very well: newly minted VP of R&D at one of Michigan's premier publicly-traded software companies, excellent salary, and generous stock options. But Rich was not happy stepping into his new role as VP. His programmers couldn't communicate with end users and clients, the frequent bugs were always someone else's problem, and missing a deadline was status quo. In short, work wasn't fun and it wasn't anything to take pride in. For several years, Rich was increasingly unhappy—often even taking long, scenic drives to work simply to spend less time in the office. Sheridan's new role precipitated a serious crisis of being. In his words:

There had to be a better way to do things, a better way to work and manage a team. Though I had no firm idea of what I was looking for, I was convinced there was a solution out there for my existential crisis and that I'd know it when I saw it.
What follows is Sheridan's tale of rediscovery, especially unique because his journey starts with joy—the same joy that struck him at the age of 13 after writing his first two simple lines of code. Joy, Inc. takes us through a wide array of organizational aspects in which Sheridan's company, Menlo Innovations, has thrown out the industry SOPs and simply recreated systems that work, keeping their people happy and their output excellent. From the completely open workspace (literally no walls aside from the perimeter) to the simple-yet-clear strategies for communication and work, Joy Inc. offers up Menlo Innovations as an engrossing case study on workplace structure and operations.

Even though Joy, Inc. is born from the story of a software company, the lessons inside can transfer to almost any workplace. And, even though creating software is Rich Sheridan's original joy, Joy, Inc. is written by a manager for other managers. Echoing Simon Sinek's famous sentiment, Sheridan echoes the importance of finding your why. Starting with why is an easy step, and if you're reading this, you've likely already agreed. What Joy, Inc. does is remind us that our why—whether personal or organizational—shares close kinship with a need for joy.

"This journey to joy at work is personal. It has to be. You want a job or an organization that brings you joy. You want to enjoy that "good kind of tired" at the end of each day, knowing you make your life just a little bit better today. Along the way, you transform into the person you've always dreamed you could be. You get in touch with what makes your heart sing and you draw others to your flame."


Check in with us tomorrow as we continue our Thinker in Residence series on Richard Sheridan with his Q&A interview on Joy, Inc..

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