Thursday, October 30, 2003

Got Brains?

How's this for smarts: I have periodically googled my employers and my own name from time to time just to see what comes up. One time that I did this a while back, I ran across a guy's blog wherein he proceeded to blast the company that I worked for and the whole interview process he had recently gone through with some of their folks.

I know what you're thinking - he's entitled to his opinion. Sure, that's what I thought too... until I read that he had another interview scheduled with that same company a short time after the date of that particular blog entry.

It was one of those cartoon shake-the-head double-take moments. What was he thinking?! These are people who are potentially in the position to offer you a job - and you publicly insult their interview skills? It's totally irrelevant whether the guy was on-target with his opinions or not. Who would want to hire him after reading about themselves like that? And if he really didn't want the job after all (as the blog seemed to imply), then why bother accepting another interview?

On a different tangent, for years, I've been telling employees they should think more carefully about what they send via company email. Like many, I sometimes have gotten lax about this myself but in general, I try to think about what I'd be willing to have people read if a message were to get printed and left out at work. In the old days, the most anyone had to worry about was whether the company was machiavellian enough to want to wade through a lot of email to find anything incriminating. Not only are there filters now that make that job easier (and so more likely - especially if we give them any reason to want to go looking for incriminating information) but there's more than just the possibility of a malicious employer (probably more remote than most people are willing to believe) involved now too.

Consider the case of the Enron employees whose personal email messages were made a matter of public record because of the lawsuit. In the future, expect to see guidelines established around how to treat email as a strategic asset that should be included in comprehensive data retention policies. That means that sometime soon, we're likely to be asked to save just about everything we send. Beats me how IT will deal with that, given that they're usually the ones who set limits on the size of my inbox but it's probably coming down the pike anyway.

These things have been percolating in my brain for a while now. The real news today was a story I read in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer that really made me stop and think about a few things. It's is about Michael Hanscom, who was fired because of his blog and it really personalizes some of the other stuff I just mentioned.

If you're not too quick to jump on the whiner band-wagon, there's a lot to learn here. First off - in reading his blog entries, Michael is clearly not a whiner. That's good. You know I can't tolerate whiners; what you may not realize is that the reason I have such trouble with whining is that nothing good comes from it.

Case in point: this guy could run off blaming the company that fired him and not get anything from it except a bunch of whiner-bandwagon "friends" who are willing to commiserate just so long as he feels like venting about how he's been wronged. Those folks are just looking for the next pity party.

Instead, Michael seems to be genuinely interested in sorting through what his mistakes might have been so he can avoid them in the future. And while he's willing to point out ways he thinks the situation could have been handled better, he doesn't fall for the blame game trap - hopefully because he recognizes that really wouldn't get him anywhere. What will (I predict) get him someplace worthwile is that he seems to have strong ethical standards and is up-front about who he is, fully backing whatever he writes these days. Proof: it's beginning to look like this combination is going to result in some pretty decent press for him - meaning, that he could very well come out of this not just 'okay' but maybe 'pretty darned good'.

Another important lesson here is that mistakes are rarely a matter of life & death. Certainly they are in some situations but that's not the norm. Somebody smart enough to realize this will be willing to hire him. And when they do, they'll probably be the sort of folks he likes working with because they'll have open conversations with him about their expectations and will give him room to make some minor mistakes while giving him plenty of warning if he's getting too close to a big one. That's just my guess anyway.

Of course, the guys that fired him over the blog would probably benefit from a better approach themselves but without more information it's impossible to tell that for sure so I'll leave my opinions about that side of it for another time when I can use a situation I'm more familiar with.

With regard to the blogging, I can only suggest that you should feel comfortable printing out your most recent entries and posting them on your refrigerator at home and on your cube wall at work for friends, family and co-workers to see. If it can't pass that test, then maybe you should re-think the writing and/or the people you associate yourself with.

If you think I'm wrong, I'd be interested to hear your ideas about a situation where you have legitimate concerns over what you're willing to write and who could see it. Send them to

If you always conduct yourself as you true best self, and stick with people who can appreciate you for that, then you probably haven't got anything to worry about.