Basecamp Management Somehow Less Self-Aware Than Andrew Yang

In the lead-up to the Chappelle Show sketch ‘When Keepin’ It Real Goes Wrong’, Dave Chappelle gives the following pretty great advice:

“It’s good to be real sometimes. It’s good to be phony sometimes. Yes, I said it. Phony! You think I’m this nice in real life? F$ck that son!”

We tend to stay real with the people when we benefit from telling the truth to them and hearing the truth from them, while we stay phony when we feel that we benefit from emotional investment.

Take a second to do an exercise splitting society into those that you should be “real” to/with and those that you should stay “phony” to/with. Here’s my take:

Be Real (to and with) Stay Phony (to and with)
Parents, Spouses, Young Children*, Teenagers Extended Family
Healthcare Workers Celebrities + Self-Promoters
Political candidates (someone desperately needs to get real with Andrew Yang) Elected Officials + Business Leaders
Co-workers Bosses + Management

(In Venkatesh Rao’s amazing six-part Gervais Principle breakdown of ‘The Office’ and management, he would argue that there lies a third column of people who think they are Real but actually Phony. It’s seriously worth your time to read the full piece. But for simplicity sake, I will keep these two columns.)

So where am I going with all this? Let’s talk about Basecamp.

First, the definition of a ‘basecamp’ is the following: a main encampment providing supplies, shelter, and communications for persons engaged in wide-ranging activities, as exploring, reconnaissance, hunting, or mountain climbing. What does a company who builds project management and communications tools, who changed their name from 37 Signals in 2014, have to do with adventure sports? Unclear.

Second, Basecamp had ~60 employees as of two weeks ago, but has written 5 books on management (!!). Basecamp must have the highest books written per employee rate of any company in history.

Oh yeah and third, management decided to get real with their employees by setting up a company-wide meeting to discuss banning political discussion in the office and ⅓ of their employees immediately accepted buyouts afterwards.

There are a lot of extremely smart pieces of the lead-up and aftermath of the debacle, so I recommend reading Casey Newton’s full piece at Platformer, Charlie Warzel’s piece at Galaxy Brain, and Vice’s piece.

But here’s simple take:

  1. When management and senior leadership view themselves as [libertarian?] visionaries and have not been churned since the founding of a company, they have had no reason to grow their emotional intelligence or EQ; any constructive criticism immediately gets responded to childlike, defensively and authoritatively. And why wouldn’t Basecamp get defensive? They wrote five books on leadership damn it!
  2. When management and senior leadership do not value HR as a necessary sounding board and buffer between themselves and their employees, then PR disasters such as this arise. (Also, I cannot find anyone with the title of HR at Basecamp on LinkedIn - can you?)

If Basecamp leadership had just stayed phony about their actual thoughts on names they couldn’t pronounce or quietly deleted the list that caused this whole debacle, none of this would have happened. Maybe the day they made this decision, they accidentally took down the silk-screened poster based on one of their bestsellers?

Last month we had some scary banking-related news out of Japan where data migration work had turned Mizuho Bank’s ATMs into debit-card-eating machines. This month we have some happy banking-related news out of Louisiana:

In a lawsuit filed against Ms. Spadoni in federal court in New Orleans, Charles Schwab said that it was supposed to have moved only $82.56 into Ms. Spadoni’s Fidelity Brokerage Services account, but that a software glitch had caused it to mistakenly transfer the seven-figure sum.’

The seven-figure sum in question totaled nearly $1.2 million and was immediately used to buy a house and car by the lucky recipient. Not bad for a quick 14602x ROI! For comparison, Dogecoin’s adjusted close low and high of the year are $.0057 and $.6848 resulting in a measly 145x ROI.

Sadly, the defendant could not keep her ill-gotten winnings:

Realizing the mistake, Schwab tried to reclaim the money through a computer system, but got a message that said “Cash not available,” the lawsuit said. A second attempt was also rejected, and Schwab received a message that said: “Insufficient funds, please work directly with the client to resolve.”

A Schwab employee called Ms. Spadoni four times but was unable to leave a message during two of those attempts because her answering machine was full, the lawsuit said. A corporate counsel for Schwab then called Ms. Spadoni at the Sheriff’s Office but was told that she was unavailable, according to the lawsuit, which said he then sent several text messages.

Mizuho, Citibank, and Chase really need to beef up their risk and IT teams.

Quick hits:

*I debated which category Young Children fall into, since ideas such as the ‘elf on the shelf’ incentivizes parents to use such narratives to keep their kids in line. However it is probably important to stay emotionally invested in your kids, so in the ‘real’ bucket they go.

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