Startups have been creating employee hell in Silicon Valley. That was in the forefront of my mind as I read the book Lab Rats: How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of Us. I think this book should be required reading for anybody who thinks working for a startup in Silicon Valley would be fun.
Unless you are into humiliation and abuse (giving or getting), you probably should avoid these startups like the plague. Yes, you could get rich, but you also could end up with a ruined life — broke, divorced, homeless, or maybe even dead by your own hand.
The problems aren’t confined to startups, though. After reading the book, you likely would end up with a whole different perspective about firms like Apple, Google and Facebook as well. And VCs — oh my god. This well-researched book could have you thinking most of them are run by literal demons.
In much the same vein as Brotopia, but expanding beyond abuse of women, this book explains the increase of suicides, mental health issues, and even the expansion of homelessness around some of the most powerful and richest companies in the world — companies you send a lot of money to.
It also takes a look at unicorns, companies with massive valuations but no real way to generate profit, and the con artist management experts permeating the industry who seem to relish creating their own little hells on earth.
Finally, and this is a good thing, the book showcases some of the companies that treat their employees well including a VC where they have focused not only on excellent work/life balance, but also on investing in firms that specifically focus on making the world a better place.
I’ve known Dan Lyons and have read his work for much of my adult life. We kind of went through a war together on the same side, and I couldn’t recommend his book more highly. However, rather than providing a book review or detailed summary (which might prevent your buying or reading the book), I’m going to propose a spinoff.
It struck me that this book would make a good foundation for a comedy, drama, or reality TV show that would be fascinating to watch, and at the same time actually help make people aware of (and want to fix) this problem. I feel strongly that abuse of any form should be wiped out.
I’ll end with my product of the week: the Oculus Go, a new VR headset from Oculus based on Qualcomm technology.
The Comedy Version
What prompted me to think of a TV show was that Dan has been a writer for the series Silicon Valley. That show, which I find pretty hard to watch, focuses on a startup. I’m also reminded that The Office was based on a broader retelling of Dilbert-like stories that likely do exist in office environments, in some form or other. The U.S.-based show was based on a show produced in England, and it was a hit for a number of years.
My idea is to focus on a company of young engineers desperate for help in managing people who then hire “experts” to help them fix the problems. The experts would mirror and expand on types showcased in Dan’s book. They would range from fake experts who use deep, thoughtful, adult tools — like Legos — to those who rely on management by Feng Shui.
Penn & Teller developed a show that made somewhat similar points, called Bullshit! It ran for several years, but a lot of folks sued them, which suggests that comedy might work better then Penn & Teller’s reality show approach.
There would be a central character who was smart and would break the fourth wall — like George Burns in the really old George Burns and Gracie Allen Show — or, more recently, like Deadpool.
So, the audience would always be in on the joke. This character would use sarcasm and innuendo heavily to point out why each of these “expert” geniuses really were idiot con artists, and foil their efforts.
The company could be, I don’t know, really fictional like an electric car company lead by people who didn’t know how to build cars, or maybe even a chip company with a board made up of financial types and MDs — you know things that might not happen in real like. Oh wait…
What really might be fun would be to have the central character present like some uneducated blue-collar worker but actually be the secret owner of the company and a billionaire with only the audience in on this as well.
Another twist could show the central character coming in as a janitor and taking a lot of abuse, but learning where all the idiots are. He then would buy company, get rid of all the idiots, and promote the heroes in the firm who actually provided value. Hmm — you know that might work in real life.
(I’ve often pondered a company that was made up of ex-spies who would be hired to go into a firm secretly to find out all of its problems prior to an acquisition.)
The Drama Version
The drama would pit a group of experts against a plot from a foreign government — let’s say, oh, China — that wanted to destroy U.S. business by infecting it with management practices that sound really smart but actually are idiotic.
Using a combination of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. concepts (with regard to headquarters and tools), some NCIS-like analysis, and some Mission Impossible-like stunts, their job would be to undermine the foreign entity’s efforts without letting anyone know they were even there.
Rather than destroying the business with bad practices, they would trick the firm into implementing good business practices with the long-term goal of finding and stopping the evil mastermind deploying the phony efficiency expert teams.
This would convey why many of these screwy practices are idiotic, and simultaneously address things like phishing and spearphishing, along with practices that trick people into installing viruses or buying into Ponzi schemes.
Done right, it not only would be entertaining, but also — depending on how the plot evolved — could help people understand and avoid the con artists and others constantly trying to scam them. (It also might help with our gullibility with regard to fake news.)
While there likely are enough stories in Dan’s book to fill a season, this show could pull its plots from the same kind of research he did and keep that research — and exposing frauds — in the news, helping to correct this bad behavior.
The Reality TV Version
The Reality TV angle would be to focus on the abusers. People would submit stories of abuse and undercover wired actors would go into the firm and then record and share what was going on.
This would be more like a 60 Minutes expose, but one that specifically focused on abusive managers. A team of experts, likely pulled from the list of good actors in Dan Lyons’ book, would sit on a panel and run a commentary on why what we were watching not only wouldn’t work but why it constituted abuse.
There would be some risks — particularly if some of the very powerful men who make a habit of abusing women, in particular, were showcased. One way around that issue would be to get those who complained of abuse to dictate what happened, and then re-enact the event.
Given that some of the folks who would come forward for a show like this might fake accusations for screen time and attention, it might be interesting to out those people, reducing the number of folks who would make fake claims over time.
Much in the same way that NBC’s Dateline went after pedophile,s this show would focus on catching extremely abusive executives and managers in the act, forcing change by exposing extremely abusive behavior.
The issue with books like Lab Rats is that they typically get an initial wave of readers but then fall into the dustbin of history, and the lessons and insights are lost. I think a TV show could take the concept of Lab Rats and turn it into an interesting lasting lesson that could help make the future a better place for those unfortunate enough to work for one of these insanely abusive and terminally stupid startups.
It also would help mainstream firms that once fell for concepts like forced ranking, and help them make better choices in the future.
I really recommend that you read the book Lab Rats: How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of Us, and if you are going to work in tech, pick one of the firms that treats employees with respect over one in which the managers secretly wear “Abuse ‘R’ Us” T-shirts.
My lasting impression of the book is that there are a lot of folks in power who should be kicked out of the human race. The right program might, at least, get them the hell out of management.
I received an Oculus Go from Qualcomm as the leadup to its analyst event in Hawaii this year. It showcases both what works and what doesn’t work with this technology at the moment.
Addressing some of the early problems with the standalone cell phone-based products, the Oculus Go has decent performance and image quality. This class still is focused on providing a low-cost entry-level VR experience, and it does that.
It was sent out so that we could explore the venue we were going to virtually, in advance of our trip. It is ideal for that. In fact, it is good for movies in general. With a decent set of headphones, it provides a nice streaming or download movie experience. For some reason, there doesn’t seem to be an Amazon Prime app available, but it handled Netflix like a champ.
VR games remain a problem, though. Finding a game that I really like playing has been an issue, and the lack of consistency between platforms with the controller is another issue. For instance, one first-person space shooter that I was enjoying appeared to require two controllers (the Oculus Go comes with one) and a button on the controller that the higher-end Oculus has but this product does not (so I couldn’t figure out how to fire the damn missiles).
I really don’t understand why Facebook, which owns Oculus, didn’t specify Oculus Rift-like controllers. The Rift is the more expensive product (US$349 vs. $249). That way the user experience with different classes of device could be more consistent. There are aftermarket controllers, but I doubt that many games have been designed with them in mind, due to low volume. I’m not even sure they actually would work with the Go.
The Oculus Go is a solid improvement over its predecessors. At less than $250, it is a real value that is hampered by a lack of controller consistency across the Oculus line and the lack of a truly compelling game.
Unlike the Oculus Rift, it doesn’t require a PC, making the setup a ton easier and the device realistically portable.
If you are bored and waiting for an appointment or having your teeth cleaned, this is a good way to distract yourself. It is handy if you want to watch a Netflix movie, and many of the shortcomings could be addressed with a couple accessories and one good Halo-like game (Xbox).
I like values, and at under $250, this is a decent one, so this week the Oculus Go is my product of the week.