That’s the headline on this story about me by Caroline Fairchild on LinkedIn. It’s worth a read.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR
Sure, startups have cool, kooky offices. Everyone loves visiting the Googleplex, which feels like you’re on a different planet. But I’ve always had a soft spot for the corporate campuses of the big 20th-century industrial giants. Once years ago I had the chance to interview Lou Gerstner at IBM’s headquarters in Armonk, N.Y. It was like going to meet Superman in the Fortress of Solitude. Everything about the place was meant to convey power.
Last week I visited the Ford campus in Dearborn, Michigan. (I wrote a different piece about it here on LinkedIn.) That’s the main executive headquarters building up above. There’s something massive and stoic and serious about it: Here is a place where adults do important things. No slides, no bouncy castles.
This may be changing, alas. Ford has announced plans to build an entirely new corporate campus, consolidating 30,000 people from 70 buildings into two main campuses. They’re going to demolish a bunch of old buildings — not sure if the one above will get bulldozed — and build something that looks like a tech company campus.
Last week I spent two days at Ford, for the “Further with Ford” event, where they talked about disruption and embracing new technologies. They’re really transforming the company. The new campus is kind of a metaphor for what’s happening to Ford itself. In 10 years this will be a very different business.
Here’s a thing called Carr-E, a personal mobility device, sort of a cross between a hoverboard and a Segway. Ford engineers in Germany designed it as a potential “last mile” transportation device in cities. It goes 11 miles per hour and can carry heavy packages. There’s also a tethering mode that lets it follow you around like a pet. So you could pop your stuff onto it and have it roll behind you to your car, or to the store. There’s video of me trying to ride this thing. I’ll see if I can upload it.
Here is Ford’s self-driving car. They vow to have these in production and on the road by 2021. I went for a ride in this and all I could think was, I want this car, right now.
Earlier this month (Sept. 5-9) I did a whirlwind tour of appearances in London, Manchester and Liverpool, promoting the U.K. edition of Disrupted, which is published by Atlantic Books. These things all go by in such a blur. Half of what happened I don’t even remember. But: there is photographic evidence! I’m posting these mostly as a reminder to myself, a kind of scrapbook.
It has been about six months since Disrupted was published. This has been a really amazing and interesting experience. For one thing, the book has sold well. It made the best-seller lists and now is in its sixth printing. (I like to say it’s the first book I’ve ever written that someone has actually bought.) We’ve sold rights in a bunch of countries around the world. The U.K. edition came out a couple weeks ago. Here in the U.S. there will be a paperback edition coming out early next year. That stuff is gratifying. But there’s another thing that nobody knows about, and it is ultimately far more satisfying than any good review or positive sales report. It’s that, even now, months after the book came out, I still receive email every day from people telling me how the book resonated with them, so much so that they took the time to track down my website, get my email address, and write me a note.
These aren’t fan letters. These are people who feel compelled to tell me their stories. Some just send a quick “thank you” for writing the book, but a lot of them write long letters and really pour their hearts out. So many people have gone through something similar to what I did: getting laid off in mid-career and struggling to start over; experiencing prejudice based on their age, or race, or gender; working in a kooky startup culture for clueless managers who don’t know what they’re doing; or having to deal with an abusive boss. Some people are still in those jobs and are writing to kvetch about their situation. Those are the lucky ones. A lot of letters come from people who have been pushed out of the workforce and can’t get back in.
There’s the woman who got fired from a tech startup in San Francisco when she was five months pregnant, probably because she was five months pregnant. There are women who have been sexually assaulted or harassed by a tech CEO and don’t dare to complain because they feared the publicity would hurt their career. There’s the black entrepreneur who shows up at a VC firm looking for funding and sees, yet again, the lights go out in the eyes of the white VCs when they see him in person. Over and over I’ve heard the story of the gray-haired worker who has the perfect resume and does great on the phone interview, but then shows up for the in-person interview and the twenty-something hiring bro does a double take and says, “Oh I just remembered there’s a meeting I’m supposed to be in, so we’ll have to reschedule.”
Some letters are heartbreaking. And every day more arrive. People tell me my book cheered them up a little bit, and let them know that they’re not alone. But it’s terrible to think that so many people are suffering. The fact that this quiet epidemic is happening during a time when there is so much innovation, and excitement, and energy — when the headlines, especially from Silicon Valley, are filled with stories of a Golden Age and unicorns and rising valuations and the Great Tech Boom — well, the contrast is striking. It’s like there’s a great, wonderful, shiny show taking place over there on a big, bright, well-lighted stage, but then off to the side, hidden in the shadows, are millions of people who aren’t allowed to attend the show or participate in it, or who were in it once but got pushed out into the darkness.
Those are the people I hear from. There are more of them than you would imagine.
Also, this isn’t all gray-haired people. I get a lot of letters from people in their twenties who have already had bad work experiences at startups, or who look around at the way work is structured today and see the game rigged against them. They’ve been taken in by charlatans who gave them beer pong and foosball but put them to work in digital sweatshops. Now they’re disillusioned. They worry about their future.
In the past six months I’ve become a kind of unofficial spokesperson for angry olds — the “Gray Panthers,” I like to call us. My book events in the Bay Area were packed, mostly with people of a certain age (40 plus) who have been “aged out” of the workforce. Reporters writing about age bias, especially in tech, usually seek me out for a comment. This week Caroline Fairchild, a reporter at LinkedIn, did a whole story about me: “No one in tech will admit they’re old.”
Talking about age bias has caused me to think more about diversity in general. I’ve met some really interesting fellow travelers and have started thinking about what we might do to make things better, to get companies (in tech and elsewhere, but especially in tech) to “think different” about how they recruit and hire and manage. Just writing about diversity and talking about diversity doesn’t seem like enough. But I’m not sure what comes next.
I try to write back to everyone who writes me a letter. Sometimes this begins a correspondence that goes on for a while, and I make new friends. I’m a little behind right now, but I’m trying to catch up with the email. Also, some letters slip through and I just forget to write back. If that happened to your letter, I’m sorry. I do my best.
A few days ago someone asked me if I consider the book a success. (My sense was that he didn’t.) I do, but not because of sales figures or reviews. It’s because every day I open up my email and find these letters. It’s a very personal thing, something I experience by myself, alone in my office. Writing can be lonely. These letters make it less so. Part of why the letters cheer me up is they make me realize that I’m not alone, either. The letters come from all over the world, from all kinds of people. It has been an extraordinary experience. It’s the best thing about writing the book.
I was on a whirlwind book tour in the UK last week and did a crazy non-stop string of appearances, which ranged from BBC World Service and the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 (very serious) to crazy comedy with Steve Wright on BBC Radio 2 (very not serious). But the highlight for me was a speech at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, aka the RSA. It’s an organization founded in 1754, with an incredibly nice auditorium decorated with murals, and an audience of think tank people, policy wonks and other brainy Brits. “No pressure,” they told me, but yes, it was a lot of pressure. I spoke for 20 minutes then did a conversation with Tony Greenham, an economist and author. It was not my typical bookstore appearance.
Anyway, here is a video of the talk. Note the terrified look on my face when I walk on stage.
The Oakland Book Festival takes place later this month, on Sunday, May 22. The information is all here. I’m going to be participating on two panels. The first is called “The New Company Town,” which will “examine the troubling legacy of the new company town and its effect on workers.” The second is called “Working in Silicon Valley,” looking at issues of diversity, worker exploitation, and “skewed distribution of financial rewards.” On the panel will be Brad Stone, Ellen Pao, and Y-Vonne Hutchinson, with moderator Anastasia Edel. Not to be missed.
Just spent a half hour on phone with Wharton school radio program, and at 1 p.m. will be getting a visit from a journalist from a French newsweekly, Le Nouvel Observateur, aka L’Obs. Then, at 3 p.m., I’ll be doing a live chat with Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business School professor and author of “Presence,” a huge best-seller, which I just finished last night. Brilliant work by a fascinating, multi-faceted person.
A few days ago I spent a few wonderful hours with a local artist, Iris Amelia Febres, who produces what she calls “illustrated interviews,” or “illustrinterviews” with authors. She also wrote a brief article on Tumblr, and dubbed me “Diversity Advocate Man.”
The last few weeks have been crazy and a bit surreal. “Disrupted” came out, and after that everything went into a blur. In the past month I’ve been in LA for 10 days, New York for media around the book, Boston for parties and readings, then a week of events in San Francisco. I thought when I got home things would slow down, and they have, a little bit, but life is still pretty crazy. Along the way, the book hit the New York Times best sellers list, something I had not expected. Since then it has made best sellers lists at the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the San Francisco Chronicle.
I’ve decided to post some links to articles about the book, if only so I’ll be able to remember them and refer to them later. For the past few weeks my inbox has been filling up every day with people writing to me to say that they’ve read the book and can relate to it, or that they saw one of the articles I’ve published recently and want to share their own bad experiences confronting age bias or dealing with crazy “culture” at tech companies. It’s immensely gratifying to know that I have written something that connected with so many people and maybe even helped them out a little bit.
On April 4, the day before launch, I did an interview with Terry Gross for Fresh Air. We talked for 90 minutes, and I was thrilled to “meet” her as she is one of my longtime heroes, and a masterful interviewer. NPR titled the piece, “Laid-Off Tech Journalist Joins A Startup, Finds It’s Part Frat, Part Cult.” (That link takes you to a page where you can hear the whole interview.)
The next few days were a blur: a podcast with Recode, an appearance on CNBC, an interview with WBUR in Boston, a visit to WGBH to tape an interview with Barbara Howard for All Things Considered, a corporate event at Google, a Harvard bookstore event in Cambridge, an event at Bookends in Winchester, and a spectacular big book party at Empire in Boston, hosted by Maura Fitzgerald and Version 2.0 Communications. The Boston Globe ran a story about the party.
San Francisco events went well. One, hosted by Litquake at the Alamo Draft House movie theater, sold out. Another, at Kepler’s in Mountain View, drew more than 200 people. A third, at Book Passage in Marin County, drew a great turnout and went over well.
Here’s a chronicle of write-ups. I’ll add more as I think of them or as they come out.
A few days before the book came out, Fortune ran a big excerpt which now, a few weeks later, has drawn about 280,000 unique views. They made some great artwork:
On April 3, the Sunday before launch, the New York Post (aka the world’s greatest newspaper) ran a two-page spread about the book, headlined, “Millennials are being dot.conned by cult-like tech companies.”
On April 5, launch day, I published an article on LinkedIn, headlined, “When It Comes to Age Bias, Tech Companies Don’t Even Bother to Lie.” That article has drawn more than 700,000 views and 2,500 comments, and was republished in the New York Observer. When the LinkedIn article started taking off I began to think that “Disrupted” might strike a nerve.
That sense was confirmed five days later, on Sunday, April 9, when I published an op-ed in the New York Times, headlined, “Congratulations! You’ve Been Fired.” That article was at or near the top of the Times list of most-read stories for several days, and a week later the Times published an entire column of letters to the editor about what I’d written.
On April 5, Dwight Garner of the New York Times published a great review of the book done in second person — an allusion to one of my favorite books of all time, and a book that influenced every writer of my generation: “Bright Lights, Big City,” by Jay McInerney. Cooler still, McInerney saw the review and called it out on Twitter. Garner’s review is really funny and worth reading. He really got into it.
Nancy Franklin, former TV writer for the New Yorker, wrote a review for the New York Times Book Review, which was mixed, but did include a fantastic piece of art:
Tom Peters, legendary author of “In Search of Excellence,” somehow discovered “Disrupted” and started tweeting about it, calling it a “fine and important work.” Then he invited me to lunch. Pinch me.
Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s GPS, named “Disrupted” his “Book of the Week” and called it a “must read” on his Sunday show.
Jeffrey Pfeffer, another management legend and professor at Stanford Business School, wrote an essay in Fortune about “Disrupted,” headlined, “Why `Modern’ Work Culture Makes People So Miserable.”
The Financial Times ran a glowing review, which is unfortunately behind a paywall. Therese Poletti at Marketwatch wrote that the book “shows tech hasn’t learned from the dot-com bust.” Ilan Mochari at Inc. magazine appreciated that the book was trying to make some larger points about the tech industry.
Josh Bernoff, a former Forrester analyst, liked the book. Rick Chapman of Softletter did not. David Meerman Scott, a HubSpot advisor, was not a fan. Nor was Dan Woods, a marketing consultant. My favorite negative response came from Lauren Holliday, a former HubSpot employee, who published an article in Fortune headlined, “Working For This Startup Wasn’t Hell — You’re Just Old.” Nice! That last one kind of made my point for me.
In late April, an artist in Boston, Iris Amelia Febres, created an “illustrated interview” with me, and dubbed me “Diversity Advocate Man.”
On Monday, April 25, I did a live Twitter conversation with Harvard Business School professor and best-selling author Amy Cuddy.
Emmett Rensin, book editor of Vox, raved that “The lunacy of Silicon Valley is no secret. But Disrupted goes deeper than foosball tables and free beer.” Quote from Rensin:
Disrupted begins to chip away, a bit, at the superficial gawking I’d grown bored with and to argue that the trouble with Silicon Valley isn’t the excesses of companies-as-adult-frat-houses — not really. It’s the excess of capitalism, shredding a century of labor security and calling it a cutting-edge disruption…. It is the funniest and most relentless iteration of the form, madcap and darker than I’d expected.
Pulitzer-winning LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote that Disrupted “is the best book about Silicon Valley today.”
Mashable named Disrupted its “Geek book of the week.”
Metro, an alt weekly in Silicon Valley, ran an excerpt and put Disrupted on its cover, with the headline: Hoodiewinked.
Friends: Hachette Book Group has lined up a few things for me around the launch of my terribly exciting and not-at-all controversial new book, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble. Here are some events you might want to attend:
Wednesday April 6, WorkBar, Cambridge, 7 p.m., with Harvard Bookstore
Thursday April 7, Google Boston, 2 p.m., with Harvard Bookstore.
Thursday April 7, Launch Party, Empire Boston, Seaport District, hosted by Version 2.0 Communications.
Sunday April 10, Bookends, Winchester, Mass., 2 p.m.
Tuesday April 12, Litquake event, Alamo Drafthouse, San Francisco, 7 p.m.
Wednesday April 13, Kepler’s, Menlo Park, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday April 14, Microsoft in Mountain View, noon.
Friday April 15, Book Passage, Corte Madera, 7 p.m.
Sunday, May 22, Oakland Book Festival — a panel with Brad Stone of BusinessWeek, Ellen Pao, and Y-vonne Hutchinson. This one you won’t want to miss, I promise.