Thank you, Jason Fried.
Some CEO had to say it, and you said it about as well and as firmly as it can be said.
You’re not playing patty-cake with all this namby-pamby social justice bullshit any more. You are all business, and you expect your employees to be, too. They want to be activists, they can do it on their own time.
And now we’ll find out what happens to you and your project management software firm, Basecamp, as a result—if anything.
In a single blog post, you banned employees from talking about social issues or politics on the company’s own Basecamp account. You put an end to “paternalistic benefits” that reward employees for fitness and wellness. You called for the disbanding of company committees that you think are watering down your decision-making. You banned 360 reviews because they result in “performative paperwork.” You called on people to focus on the business and told them not to expect company leadership to take positions on social issues. It was like a time travel adventure!
We don’t have to solve deep social problems, chime in publicly whenever the world requests our opinion on the major issues of the day, or get behind one movement or another with time or treasure. These are all important topics, but they’re not our topics at work—they’re not what we collectively do here. Employees are free to take up whatever cause they want, support whatever movements they’d like, and speak out on whatever horrible injustices are being perpetrated on this group or that (and, unfortunately, there are far too many to choose from).
Dismissive language like “whatever horrible injustices are being perpetrated on this group or that” notwithstanding, no one who has run an organization or been close to someone who has, cannot relate to Jason Fried’s seeming exasperation here. Whatever they say at the Aspen Ideas Festival, it’s a rare business boss—whether a Fortune 50 CEO a landscaping company owner—who lies awake at night worrying about how to bring more diversity of thought and behavior to the organization.
Even in all-white, early 1960s Mayberry, Andy Griffith was beset by well-meaning nuts of such variety that the only person he could usually count on was his eight year old son, Opie.
Even relatively monocultural companies of any size at all are terribly hard to run with strategic focus and discipline. To try to make them function simultaneously as forums and platforms for conversation in a roiling society, or agents of social justice in a deeply divided nation—it will seem to many a traditional business leader as misguided if not goddamned impossible.
(But if you’re going to be making the kind of money CEOs make, you ought to be able to do the goddamned impossible, it seems to me. And during the course of talking about my book, An Effort to Understand, the most important idea I harp on is: It should be terribly difficult to run a company in the United States of America, just as it’s terribly rigorous to be a responsible citizen in this great experiment in diversity and freedom and democracy. So when you say, Jason, that the conversation about politics at work has “become too much,” the question is: Too much for whom, young man?)
Possibly, Basecamp’s workforce isn’t large or diverse enough, or its customer base not activist enough to serve as any kind of benchmark or bellwether. Fellow tech firm Coinbase made a similar move last fall and it didn’t have much effect on employee activism in other companies, one way or another. Though maybe it did embolden Fried.
“Sigh,” a longtime corporate communication observer tells me, about Fried, and his chief technology officer David Henemeier Hanssen, who has also weighed in. “Two white guys declaring no more discussing politics … which evolves into making them the political news of the day. And let’s not overlook [Fried’s] last post which was titled, ‘I bought a sauna.'”
If it wasn’t you guys, it would have been someone else, trying to set back the corporate clock. Lots of your fellow CEOs are cheering, I’m sure. And watching closely.
Me, too. With popcorn.