San Francisco, California

Irony doesn’t scale

Paul Ford on becoming a manager at Postlight, the agency he cofounded:

There is no true metric of success, not even profits. When I was a writer and a piece was published I could see the tweets, and sometimes the traffic metrics. I could see who emailed me. And then I’d chase the next success, often for months.

For a long time at Postlight, I kept looking around for signs like that. They never came. Eventually I realized that success is not about big hits. It’s actually in the opportunity to improve. How could our sales pipeline be better-managed? How could our team be coached on client interaction? Who seems frustrated, who could use coffee, who should be pinged on Slack? How could our meetings be more efficient, and in lesser quantities? Do we need more plants?

Paul continues:

[...] when the boss is self-deprecating it becomes someone’s job to lift him up. If I talk or chat on Slack about a bad day, I’m de-facto asking someone to soothe me. Some topics are fine: Kids being annoying, not getting enough sleep. But people need to mind their work, not me. The social contract is not, “tend to Paul.” If people do that—sick system.

I’m not a robot by any means. But I’ve learned to watch what I say. If there’s one rule that applies everywhere, it’s that Irony Doesn’t Scale. Jokes and asides can be taken out of context; witty complaints can be read as lack of enthusiasm. People are watching closely for clues to their future. Your dry little bon mot can be read as “He’s joking but maybe we are doomed!” You are always just one hilarious joke away from a sick system.