“We Don’t Want Your Opinion, You’re Through.”

Not too many months back I was recruited by reputation and resume to assume the mantel of Chief Learning Designer for an internet startup. Like most neophyte businesses this one was just in the cocoon phase with the principles and one other key player aboard. My initial responsibility was to design the process by which the content (essentially how to find greater sexual satisfaction…and no, it was not a porno site) could be engineered into the product itself. Later, I would recommend and implement a top tier LMS for admin and ecommerce. One owner, who had an HR background and some training experience had determined, quite forcefully, the ultimate product – the multi-channel website – should “not look like elearning. “Rather,” she said, “it should be totally experiential.” Huh?

Now, I get the words and even some of the meaning, and though it was never any clearer than that, I forged ahead. I produced marvelous Visio architectures and collaborated with the marketing fellow (who was building loads of wireframes to approximate “the experience,”) and these were met with great appreciation. When we reached the content development phase – about 45 days in – it was clear much of what I had thought was pretty much agreed to was in flux, like almost everything else. Plus, by this time, my beliefs about what was meant about ‘experiential’ and that of the principal were diverging. So I was shunted over to work with another new hire – a psychologist who had done some work building her own site to promote women’s sexuality. She in turn was getting content from the resident ‘sexologist’ an individual who was tipping us more towards ‘what some might call heightened pleasure and others call porn’ scenarios.

Anyway, I’m no prude but when the other partner/principal learned (…something new everyday that had to be addressed) that teens were not getting adequate information about sexuality, and was intending to lead us into that arena next, my conscience started sending electric shocks to my cerebrum. Simultaneously, the psychologist for whom I was building storyboards about how to use ‘sex toys,’ e.g., vibrators et.al., was mismanaging the entire development process. I chatted her up about this but she was firm in her beliefs this was the way, “the women” (the two principals) wanted to see it so they could grasp the content and concepts.

Needless to say, I had to speak out calling the principal and leaving a message. “Perhaps,” said I, “we might speak tomorrow at 8.” The next morning she called and spoke the very words in the title of this piece. (Look up, it’s there). I was speechless, then asked for severance which had been promised, told no way, said thanks, hung up…and laughed. The relief was palpable. Not that I am cavalier about losing a contract which had another 45 days to go, but the weirdness of – get this – not the content – but the unconstrained disorder and lack of focus that was too much to endure.

So, what is the point here. Oh, jeez, tons. Don’t work for startups that are in flux, do your homework on the principals before you sign on, speak to the folks who previously held your position (4 in 6 months) or book, in advance, electroshock therapy sessions. Actually, I toss this whole story out there to learn about your nightmare clients and unforeseen situations, where failing to read the tea leaves as they rose to the surface caused much anguish later on.

So offer up your tales of woe. Make it really gory, too. The more misery the stronger the lesson. Let’s see if we can extract some valuable lessons — especially since we should know better, right?

Thanks for reading.

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2 thoughts on ““We Don’t Want Your Opinion, You’re Through.”

  1. Wonderful Brainiac, I enjoyed the in-the-trenches vibe of this post.

    My own story, reduced to a demi-glace: in 2007, after a layoff from the World’s Biggest Media Corporation, I unwisely listened to a former colleague lay it on thick about the new venture she’d joined…start to finish, eight weeks in all, it was a nightmare. Every. Single. Second. Startups can be exciting, but this one was just excruciating. I kept telling the principals (I was considered the “lead writer,” which really meant “head whipping girl”) that if they kept the process as it was that they would tank.

    My own end came when I finally told our project management team that talking to them was like talking to Stepford wives. I have no regrets. I got a month’s severance and was free to get on with my life.

    The startup? Even with funding from a very very big Mr. Big, one of the top three media moguls, it tanked. TANKED. I believe there may be two people still “running” the show. When startups don’t listen to the people doing the work, they fail. You were high up on the food chain, but you were still doing the work — and they failed to listen.

    There was something better for me after that, even though it took a while. And there will be something better for you, too.

  2. Hey thanks ML, your timing couldn’t have been better, I am still searching for a landing and was put forward for a great position the recruiter referred to as a ‘lock.’
    Un huh. I hit a major homerun with both execs but was not told to what extent they really expected me to have completed a major global rollout of an ERP program. (The one that has the same name as the goo that flows from trees). Yes, said I, I have rolled out projects globally but not specifically THAT. Oops. My bad. I am 99% the guy they want but there’s just this little glitch. The recruiter says I told you they would ask. Yeah but you didn’t say it was the freakin’ linchpin of the whole deal. Why did you send me – she says she thought I could overcome that issue. Back to cold calling as a way of life.

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