Last week, on a trip to Las Vegas for the Wireless 09 trade show, I finally read Bob Sutton’s book “The No Asshole Rule.” I had occasion to mention this fact to some folks at a happy hour. One intern responded, “I took a class from him at Stanford, and he was amazed that his other book took a year to write and almost nobody read it, while ‘The No Asshole Rule’ was written in three months and that’s the book he’s remembered for.”
I’m not amazed by that fact. Besides the in-your-face title, the asshole culture at work is universally understood and experienced. It’s also rarely if ever confronted–meaning that a book that takes on the subject has a pent-up demand of readers. In other words, “The No Asshole Rule” is perfect in its timing, voice, subject matter, and market need. A hit.
The book is intended to help people recognize when they’re trapped in a toxic culture and escape or cope as necessary, and to help companies justify not hiring certain people with asshole qualities that could create such a toxic culture. But most useful for me was the challenge to confront my inner asshole.
I think most people harbor one of these in their psyche. Perhaps it only comes out when your kid wakes you up at 5:30am and asks if it’s OK for him to go downstairs and play Nintendo, or when you get a telemarketing call during dinner. For others (me included), it’s more easily accessed. And when I got into the corporate world, the culture of advancement helped bring it out more and more often, until I was a senior manager, when I was probably more than 50% asshole (my employees and colleagues might raise that number a bit).
Given that, I probably couldn’t have had a better break than, as happened a few years ago, to leave the corporate world behind and become a sole practitioner. It is very very difficult to make a living being an asshole when you are a lone contributor working for companies. You have to be humble, do good work, and make sure the client likes what you have done. That is the oxygen for this business. Treating clients poorly is a recipe for oblivion. I may not make as much money as I did a few years ago, but I think I’m a nicer person for it.
So perhaps I read the book at the perfect time. At any rate, “The No Asshole Rule” helped me understand the true cost of assholism, and how to recognize it and treat it in myself.