Tuesday, 10 July 2007

The No Asshole Rule

No more! No more special treatment for company's top performers who treat others like dirt. Those who spew venom and drain the energy out of the people they work with. The end begins here!

So say the premise of this book. The No Asshole1 Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't is not meant to be cheeky or rude. According to Sutton himself, there's no other word that can "quite captures the essence of this type of person."

An a-hole is someone who passes both these tests:
  • Test 1: After talking to the alleged a-hole, does the "target" feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energised, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him or herself?

  • Test 2: Does the alleged a-hole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those who are more powerful?
We know the type. We've met them before somewhere, if not at work. But since this is a management book, most of the example are from the workplace and businesses.

Sutton, if you still remember, is a Stanford professor who also wrote another book, the previously reviewed The Knowing-Doing Gap. He even comes up with about a real, quantifiable cost of a-hole behaviour ("the total cost of a-hole") and a self-assessment a-hole test ("Are you a certified a-hole?").

The book itself is refreshing, especially when a lot of business people associate being nice with being weak or a pushover. Individualism (in Western cultures) and high power distance (in ours) allow a-holes to thrive and run free. Those who can't cope are shown the door or keep silent.

Sutton also points that we all are potential a-holes. He even recalls a time in his career when he being one himself, to show that we all need to keep ourselves in check. Becoming an a-hole is often something that starts when we try to preserve our self-interest, like covering our mistakes from being noticed or trying to pin the blame on others. As we continue to behave in ways that are provable by the above tests and without any intervention from anyone around us, we're actually on the path to become true a-holes ourselves.

Sutton warns that a-holes in power often bring onboard other a-holes and this is how poisonous organisations are born.

There's also a devoted chapter on the good things about a-holes, in order to be fair to the subject. In doing so, Sutton hopes to cover the subject from every possible angle and open more opportunity for discussions.

The No Asshole Rule is an easy book to recommend to anyone, even if they don't read management books. Just be careful you when mention the book's title to other people.

1I personally can't agree with Sutton's choice of word, which I find crude but spot-on nonetheless.


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