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.