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Cocaine and Waffles

Keep your **** out of my ****, but keep it diverse.

Politics and social issues in the workplace go together like cocaine and waffles. With a nod to Cal Naughton Jr., I can’t imagine a better way to derail productivity than to start lecturing people about anti-racism in a Slack or during the tech support/mute/unmute opening phase of every single virtual meeting ever. Anti-racism isn’t political, but we’ll come back to that shortly. 

Prominent examples of CEO’s coming out and telling people to keep the activism out of the workplace are few and far between, but you gotta love that guy from Basecamp. And the other one from Coinbase. 

You see, just a shade under a year ago, Basecamp made a move to ban social issues and politics from work. Predictable social outrage ensued, people got called racists and certain media were all too happy to short sheet the entire effort. How prophetic, meta, and simultaneously ironic is it that a policy engineered to table social distraction instigated social distraction. Mind equals blown. 

By the way, the spoiled silicon valley elites who felt uncomfortable after this fiasco in a teacup “got packages” when they left. Got packages for quitting? When did that start? Another time on that story maybe, but the entitlement, my gawd the entitlement, and good for them too. 

How is Basecamp doing now? Well, they’re a private company so they don’t have to tell us. They also shouldn’t and I didn’t ask them. I think they made the right call. I wouldn’t worry about the people who “walked out” of Basecamp, they are going to be just fine in a new job where everyone thinks the same way. I’ll get to monoculture in a minute. 

Purpose and doing right by people we have wronged is a noble and courageous thing. We all seem to agree on the destination, we’re just having trouble agreeing on the path, I get it.

Everyone thinks they need to be an activist all the time because that’s what we told them to do. If you have kept yourself locked away for the past two years, I assure you, it’s real. Try taking your mask off while on a plane for 10 seconds. You will be “activist”ed to death. The masks are going to go away at some point, but the tragic mask activist mindset is playing out with a variety of topics every day. 

A month ago a colleague called me to ask for help with some referrals. I’m people who knows people, so I offered to help out. Also, with the “great quit” going on, it’s kind of a big deal to find people. We had been trying to get on the calendar for some time, so I apologized for not getting to them sooner. 

I offered my Calendly link and sheepishly referred to it as “calendarly” because the last person I ever want to be is the guy who sends you his link to schedule. In a most aggressive uncharacteristic to our professional relationship tone, I was immediately told that I need to learn how to say it right because…wait for it.

The in-your-face shaming was justified––according to them––because making fun of Calendly is off limits because it’s black owned. Well, I think that’s ridiculous and in any case, I was awkwardly offering the misspelling because I was sort of embarrassed to use the calendar plugin. I was overly conscious of the elitist factor and wrong message it might send. I wasn’t waving a confederate flag and shouting yee-ha for heaven’s sake.  

I’m just saying you might want to take a break from yelling at people for having no compassion by having some compassion. 

For the longest time I maintained a Facebook stable of thousands of people. Folks I’d met at shows or had read my stuff or connected in some way. It was an unhappy mix of colleagues, people I played little league with, some college chums and my mother. Purging that account over the course of a year is another story for another time. I did notice how militant everyone seemed to get overnight and that bubble think was getting worse and worse.

One time, I saw this woman named Candace Owens on TV so I posted asking if anyone knew her. Within seconds the mob was on me. Colleagues I’ve known for 20 years started calling me a racist for simply invoking the name. I honestly didn’t know her, but instantly people started sharing links to Ibram’s guide to Anti-Racism with the oh-so-condescending, “let me see if I can help here,” preamble. 

I read the book by the way. I liked it and there really is so much to be done, but like many other texts, you can take it too far. I know I don’t need to cite an example of people reading a book, latching onto its contents and committing all manner of evil because that’s what the book wanted. When we get in each other’s faces over the pronunciation of company names in the name of anti-racism, I’m pretty sure we’ve crossed over. 

LinkedIn is test driving a no politics in my work feed filter. I’m sure the algorithm deciding what constitutes politics will be more secret than anything in Hillary’s or Trump’s emails. Clicking, “I don’t want to see this” on LinkedIn is a big step toward making LinkedIn one big dopamine trap. 

Hang on a second, does that mean politician’s LinkedIn accounts will get nerfed? Checking with the Magic 8 Ball, as I see it, yes. That’ll be bad for politicians, but good for LinkedIn shareholders because we know dopamine traps are good for social network business. LinkedIn has said their filter will continue to evolve as they collect more data on things that make people feel bad. Circling back to the Ideal Toy Company’s patented and powered 8 ball, the outlook is good for LinkedIn. 

Would talking about things like supreme court justice selection be off limits at work? You bet it would. And thank heaven for that. I made the mistake of asking how people feel about not considering candidates who aren’t black women. I’m genuinely interested in what people think about it since I can’t find any media coverage asking the question. Well, certain media are very carefully asking other questions because, I assure you, you don’t want to be the person asking about it.  

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are big parts of the workplace environment’s evolution and it’s big business. Of course, the supreme court mentality has been in full effect for some time in the private sector. Companies are outright telling people they are only hiring “diverse.” I recently got a mass email humble brag with 300 or so of our closest friends openly cc’d about 2 open positions. The email came with a  “hopefully diverse” tagline. 

Companies are demanding certification as a condition of working together. As if it weren’t hard enough to compete as a small firm, now we need to be both diverse and certified to get hired. Many companies are submitting to periodic reviews to be recertified. That’s an amazing recurring revenue model for any consulting house. The recruiter that schooled  me on Calendarly is only hiring “diverse” right now.  

Don’t ask for clarification on “diverse” anywhere near work stuff. You may as well just ask about Candace Owens. The pouncing will be swift. A woman of color colleague of mine got the curated riot act when she brought it up at a cocktail party. One of the problematic data points cited by the head of diversity from this big company was the density of senior managers with EuroX sounding surnames. Really? 

I remember my Grandmother telling me stories about how difficult it was to find work when she first arrived in America a little over 100 years ago. She told me about shops that would put signs in the window that said, “Irish need not apply.” 100 years later, we’ve come full circle. Good for us. 

The real problem with smugly telling people they’re not thinking up to your standards is that it immediately starts to reduce options. Things you learn in primary school include how to pick a winning kickball team. If you only pick the kids you like over the ones good at kickball, your game will suffer. It’s that simple. 

Your kickball game (or shareholder equity, if you prefer) suffers because monothink creates a life-sucking vortex that doesn’t tolerate diverse thinking. There are plenty of ways to distract people from their work objectives with social issues. As you continue to fill your workday with only people you agree with, you close the door to one set of people and omit people who deviate from the approved narrative. What if you both voted for the big guy but you don’t see eye to eye on Ukraine strategy? You’re out. Monothink apocalypse now.  

Let’s not leave out the pioneers, mutineers and other entrepreneurs. Man, wouldn’t it be nice if they weren’t losing business to companies who can pay the 5, 6 or 7 figure “I’m not a racist,” tax? Kiss the gig economy goodbye. 

Big companies are forking over big bucks to show they are doing the right thing. Right after Mr. Floyd’s murder, a couple of activists in digital created a meaningful list of demands that would surely change the business. Hundreds signed up and I was excited. The effort got a lot of attention but instead of saving the world one of them immediately sold out to a big consulting company. I was happy and sad for him at the same time. He was promised a senior role that allowed him to spend time doing his side hustle in addition to building the practice of charging companies bookoo bucks to be “Certified Not Racist.” I told you, it’s big business.

Should politics and social issues be as far from the workplace as possible? You bet they should. Productivity and diversity of perspective demand it. Shareholders should demand it.

Should we continue to help level the playing field in business so that everyone has a shot at the dream? Damn skippy.

We have to be careful about how we define and enforce diversity. Companies should support social issues. On the other hand, if we continue to assume “everyone” thinks like “us,” we are headed for disaster.

The struggle in all of this is the quest to find lines and keep communication paths open. Lines between productivity and emotion. Lines between how we think and how others think. “Our personal and professional social constructs have us believing everyone thinks the way “we” do and that’s not going to get us to a place where warp travel is possible.”