COVID lockdown continues and there is nothing to do but read books and eat too much sugar which pretty much constitutes the hole I found myself in this January. My energy to get up, stand up and fight for my right to partay, for example, is zero. So here is a story of what I read this month. I read:

  • 5 crime novels — I eat crime novels like air
  • 3 non-crime novels — recommending Weather by Jenny Offill
  • 2,9 biz books, one of which was an audiobook

The epistle of the day is about the biz books, of course, because there is nothing to grump about in crime books, even if they are bad. The first read was No Rules Rules by the Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and the business culturalist Erin Meyer. No Rules Rules is a typical business book: a successful overachiever tells how they became successful without actually really telling how they became successful.

But here it is, apply with your own risk.

  1. Netflix bases their culture on talent density, which is achieved by paying well and firing those who do not perform because they would bring the high achievers down with their mediocrity.
  2. High achievers become superstars with candour, that is, constructive feedback delivered respectfully, actionably, and for the good of the company.
  3. When this is in place, you can start removing rules, such as different approval processes which hinder the employee’s ability to make quick decisions. The idea is to share context so that the employees will be able to make decisions which benefit the company. They talk about leading with context, not control.

Netflix is one of the most desirable tech employers at the moment, which is not a surprise as they are very successful, the entertainment industry is sexy and they pay well, but just reading the book made me feel like a big, old loser. I imagine myself at Netflix and all I can think of is how my mediocrity is contagious like COVID bringing the whole company down, and how my candour is not radical enough to count, which means I am not smart enough because being critical is being intelligent. I would go to work every day tired because it is not enough to just do your job, you also have to constantly develop and take the influx of constructive criticism with a smile instead of allowing it to rip apart a gaping wound of insufficiency, incompetency and lack.

Netflix builds its ideology on the people’s ability right here, right now, not on their potential. The managers should not waste time helping people grow, but instead periodically ask themselves whether they would fight to keep this person. Although they liken themselves to sports teams, unlike sports teams, they do not believe training with the best will make you better. However, companies who want to implement this strategy should remember that if you are not among the most desirable companies to work for, you might have to hire people who are not exceptional yet, but who might become great or even exceptional, if given the right challenge and support.

The biz audiobook I listened to was an older one, from 2000 called Leadership and Self-Deception. Its philosophy was pretty much the opposite of Reed Hastings’ as it emphasised treating people around you as people, not objects. After the Netflix book, the pace of this one felt very slow and homely, from another world or time, and the key message was: don’t be a jerk and justify your jerkness by blaming others. Mind you, Netflix does not tolerate jerks either. While mediocre people might be able to work at the company this book describes, there does not seem to be a place for jerks anywhere. Which makes me wonder if jerkness is like humour: everyone thinks they got it good.

The 0.9 in my stat refers to two books I am still in the middle of reading. The first one is Erin Meyer’s other book: Culture Map and then I grabbed a book about Spotify from a sale.

The Culture Map is about how communication is cultural and not everyone is the same nor are we individuals. Meyer looks at cultures from several angles some of which are more interesting than others. For example American low context communication style, where everything is explained as clearly as possible by the speaker, differs a lot from that of Asian high context styles where also the listener has responsibility in the communication. I personally have a hard time decoding business English because to me it’s empty words skirting around meaning. So Erin Meyer, I disagree about American comms style, at least in business contexts. In addition, Finns fall into the low context culture, but in fact I feel like a Finnish person only has to say a couple of words and I understand so much about them. Or at least I think I do.

A lot of the examples Meyer lists are familiar from working in global environments for a long time but the differences always seem less pronounced when you have enough time to build a relationship with trust. Maybe for me the trust comes from working together and for someone else from knowing each other but with time both happen.

The Spotify book? Well, I don’t know how the story ends yet but so far it has been the folkshem version of any old Silicon Valley hero cult. So, a bit disgusting in all its flattery of laddery.

Out of these three, I would recommend Erin Meyer, but rather than wasting your precious lockdown hours on biz lit, grab Jenny Offill’s Weather and get mighty depressed about climate change.

P.S. If you are interested in the Netflix culture but don’t want to get the book, you can read about it here. And for the Culture Map, this is a summary by Meyer herself.