Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, December 20, 2021
This has been a hell of a year.
But we are going out strong, and we are going to end the year with an English lesson suitable for all entrepreneurs who are considering engaging in the startup world of business. We all know that communication is key to building teams and doing deals. But you need to not only know what the other guy said, you also need to know what the other guy meant.
And so courtesy of Reed Hastings who built Netflix, and Ray Dalio, who made it a founding principle at Bridgewater, allow me to introduce “radical candor.” This is a dedicated business concept that holds sacred the culture of unmitigated and ruthless honesty. It believes that those principles are the best way to run a company. Their mantra is, “No one dances around the truth, and swift feedback improves performance.”
As you enter the unknown of 2022, you need to be armed with the tools to successfully navigate the workplace. Herewith I give you my lexicon for accurate and clear interpersonal communication.
“I hear you.”
Ostensible meaning: You are making a legitimate point.
Actual meaning: Could you just put a lid on it.
“Let’s discuss this offline.”
Ostensible meaning: We shouldn’t waste other people’s valuable time.
Actual meaning: Just put a lid on it.
“We should all learn to walk in each other’s shoes.”
Ostensible meaning: Shared understanding will lead to better outcomes.
Actual meaning: What is it about lid that you don’t understand?
“I’m just curious…”
Ostensible meaning: I’d like to better understand why you think that.
Actual meaning: Because it makes no sense to me, and you sound like an idiot.
“I wanted to keep you in the loop.”
Ostensible meaning: I am informing you of a minor point.
Actual meaning: Which you have no reason to be involved in, but at least this way I can shut you up for a while, and you can continue to pretend that you are important to this company, which as we both know, you are not.
“Do you have five minutes?”
Ostensible meaning: It’s not critical, I just want to mention a small issue.
Actual meaning: But actually, it won’t even take a minute — you’re fired.
“It’s on the product roadmap.”
Ostensible meaning: It’ll be done soon.
Actual meaning: Probably not in this decade, but for sure just before hell freezes over.
“We’re moving to an agile framework.”
Ostensible meaning: We will work iteratively in response to user feedback.
Actual meaning: You will continue to go around in circles, chasing your tail with no visible success, while I head off to my Pilates class, where I can iterate in peace and quiet.
“We are a platform business.”
Ostensible meaning: We provide an ecosystem in which others can interact.
Actual meaning: Look, the only real platform we have is the kitchen counter, but trust me, if we say the word platform (or network effect, or software as a service or flywheel) loud enough and often enough, it will quadruple our valuation.
“We are planning for the metaverse.”
Ostensible meaning: We are engaging with the shared immersive, digital world.
Actual meaning: I have no idea (and neither does Zuck), but both you and your avatar are fired.
So, there you have it. A short course in unvarnished feedback. Radical candor tends to work best in environments where the amount of money you are being paid is so out of touch with reality, that the abuses are suffered quietly, while you take the Gulfstream to Jackson Hole.
But only up to a point and only for so long.
In the end, the reasonable, gentle, human touch wins the day. Our souls do not want to be drained of their humanity. We want to work well in good companies, where there is decency and empathy, where we are listened to, not just heard.
And remember, your boss needs you more than you need him. And if he forgets that, just tell him to put a lid on it. See you again in 2022.
“Th-th-th- that’s all folks.”
— Porky Pig