In response, I gave what might have been the most sanguine piece of management wisdom in my career to date: “Tracy, I trust you. You’re the mom. I know how moms are. If there are problems, you’ll do the right thing.”
Maggie came in to work with Tracy almost every day for much of the next four months. She was a great addition to our culture, as she confirmed for us and the world that no experimental idea is too crazy to contemplate. Besides, Maggie’s presence was joyful and made us all feel more real and human. For the most part, my optimism was confirmed. When Maggie did make noise, it was usually as squeals of delight in response to all the energy and activity in the room.
Of course, there were times when Maggie would cry and fuss, loudly, as is typical of any newborn. This is where my prediction failed to take into account the response of the team to having a baby in the room. It was seldom Tracy who had to rescue Maggie. The team would rush to declare, “It’s my turn to hold Maggie.” I would sometimes win these races. She brought delight to all of us and, in return, the entire Menlo village helped raise Maggie. We even learned that our clients would behave better when we brought Maggie to the meetings. Customers won’t raise their voices or swear if there is a baby in the room.
After we ran the experiment with Maggie, we decided the babies could be integrated into the Menlo culture really well. Maggie, Solomon, and Lily were the first three babies. Solomon stayed until after his first birthday; we had to build a large playpen for him because he stayed until after he could walk. Since then, we’ve hosted Noel, Abigail, Kalina, and now Henry and Ellie, to round out the octet of Menlo babies so far. I’ve told all the Menlo parents that my goal is to give them a chance to see those precious firsts: the first time they turn over, sit up, smile, laugh—whatever it might be.
Having children in the office has forced us to run other small experiments in order to support a baby-friendly workforce. It has had unexpected results for our business dealings as well. One of my personal favorite stories that arose from this experiment involved Solomon, Christina’s firstborn. One day I was holding Solomon, with Christina standing with her back to me about twenty feet away. I was waiting for a potential client to call. As the phone rang, Solomon began to fidget and make noise. Uh-oh. I had to get Christina’s attention so I could give my undivided attention to the call—but I couldn’t. The phone rang three times and was about to roll over to voice mail. I needed to make a command decision, so I picked up the phone, Solomon still in hand.
If you’ve ever had kids or been around them, you know there seems to be a special understanding that babies have about adults and telephones. They seem to implicitly understand that you are trapped by the phone and they can get away with pretty much anything when you have this object glued to your ear. I quickly realized I was in this classic trap within the first thirty seconds of my important call, so I figured I should just fess up.
“By the way, you are going to hear a baby in the background,” I said to my new, important client.