I think I’ve cracked the obsession amongst much of the Silicon Valley set with compressing work life, sacrificing everything until the big exit, and running fast while breaking all the things: If you don’t plan to stick around, who cares how you leave the things behind?
This loot’n’leave strategy can justify much of what’s wrong with startup culture in the broad, below-the-titans cut (where reaching emperorhood brings its own justifications). Employees, customers, regulations, and, hell, even society at large, is much easier to screw over without regret if you don’t have to stick around for all that long. A few years of being the villain or the asshole is probably something a lot more people can imagine tolerating than if it was the condemnation of a whole career.
I can think of how the opposite dilemma frequently guides my decisions and opinions at Basecamp. If I’m going to be here for the next 10–20–30 years, what’s the right move that I won’t regret over the coming decades? How can we find ways to do right by more people, more of the time? How can we get to the root of what’s going wrong at our company or with our offering or with our technology? How can we fix them in such a way that we won’t have to worry about them all the time for the decades to come?
That perspective of permanence gives you a completely different outlook on your actions and your overall strategy. It’s like how most people end up treating a neighborhood they live in with a different kind of respect than one they’re just visiting. It’d be nice if everyone were just the best human they could be all the time, but it seems that most need some intrinsic incentive. Having to stick around is one such incentive.
How would things be different for you if you couldn’t just loot’n’leave?