Don’t be a Grin Fucker

Posted on Mar 28, 2010 | 258 comments


 

Corporate ExecutiveOK, this will be a test of whether using real curse words in your title or post gets all of your stuff blocked by spam filters or from appearing on HackerNews or the like.  I thought about trying to spell it differently (like Guy Kawasaki always says Bull Shitake (as in the mushroom, but slightly misspelled) but somehow it lost the same effect that this saying has always had for me.  So I’m willing to suffer from less readership on this one and go with the saying. Plus, everyone on Twitter egged me on and then some. Unsurprisingly, this one way best ;-)

The title IS the post.  Don’t be a grin fucker.  I was looking up the urban dictionary definition this morning to link to it in order to better explain the phrase to you and the definition was so precious and spot on that I had to just copy it here:

“In business when someone smiles and shakes your hand assuring you that they have heard and will act upon your recommendation or concerns when in truth you have already been ignored and dismissed.

Manager Bob: “Our associates will not repond positively to further cuts in their benefits. I strongly recommend against it.”

Executive Dick: (Smiling, shaking Bob’s hand and massaging his shoulder)”Thanks Bob, we’ll take that under advisement. You know our employees are our most important asset.”

Dick then processes Bob’s pink slip and cuts non-management benefits by 30%.”

That’s the classic definition of Grin Fucking.

Years ago I was working in England and I worked for a very big company – Accenture.  I grew up in the US but lived in England for so long I can never remember from which country my slang comes.  Is this phrase a US or a UK phrase?  Anyway, I spent the first part of my career consulting for large companies.  I did 5 years of building large computer systems and computer networks for global corporations and 3+ years as a “strategy consultant.”  In many of the meetings you’d meet clients who would tell you everything you needed to know, would offer to help you and then would never follow up on the help that they had offered.  I realized over time that the offer was inauthentic in the first place.  They wanted to be able to say to their senior person (who had hired Accenture in the first place) that they had been good corporate citizens but they had no real intention of actually helping me with me work.  I realized over time that I was being grin fucked.

But then I started to see it happening internally.  Accenture always had a chip on it’s shoulder in strategy consulting – especially compared with McKinsey, BCG and Bain.  McKinsey had their “7S framework” and BCG had the “BCG Matrix” with cash cows, dogs, stars and question marks.  And of course there was the Michael Porter’s “5 Forces.”  Frankly, I kind of found all of this stuff to be bullshit (bull shiitake?) anyways.  I mean Porter’s Five forces is a useful framework but it’s basically microeconomics with a pretty wrapper.  And having frameworks is a useful way to standardize your customer studies so that highly intelligent, inexperienced young people can crank out PowerPoint slides with such authority and beautiful consistency.  But tell me how practical is the 7s’s, really?

Anyway, it was chip-on-the-shoulder inducing for many at Accenture.  So we (and by we I mean “they”) at Accenture decided to come up with our own bull shit.  So we launched a global initiative to come up with our own unique strategy based on our years of strategy experience in advising (but never running) companies.  We called it “integrated strategy.”  I actually think from a marketing perspective it could have been brilliant.  The idea was that in the late 90’s you couldn’t separate out your business strategy from your IT skills and assets.  They were intwined.  We were Accenture (then Andersen Consulting) and our core skills were in building large-scale IT systems.  We were leaders in that area so it played to our strengths.

But we couldn’t leave it as just a market positioning experience.  People started to believe that there was real intellectual insight into the bullshit PowerPoint slides and customer surveys they were spitting out.  By “people” I mean the people who were on the project.  By “people” I do not mean the rest of us.  Most people I knew were walking the halls talking cynically (it was London, after all!) about “integrated strategy” but then we’d go to company meetings and noone would say what they really thought it public.  In small meetings they’d tell the senior management that they were happy Accenture was finally creating some original thought and that they supported it.  Then those same people would come out for beers that night and declare that the people creating integrated strategy were “wankers.”

I was nearing the end of my tenure at Accenture so my cheekiness and irreverence were on the rise.  At a strategy offsite with several hundred strategy employees I was giving a presentation on stage and I asked, out loud, “why do we keep grin fucking each other (you could actually say that out loud in England) on the topic of Integrated Strategy?  Privately you all acknowledge that nobody believes in it yet we’re letting our leadership continue to invest our money and reputation on something we know is going to fail because it has no real basis.  I sure wish more people would speak up.”  Obviously I got many laughs and applause.  I guess not the most politic thing I’ve ever done, but you can ask anybody who was in the strategy practice of Accenture in London in 1999 and they’ll confirm I really did this.

Don’t be a grin fucker.  Stop the corporate bullshit when it hits your desk.  You don’t have to do it as publicly  and vocally as I did – in fact I don’t recommend it.  But please be willing to politely and respectfully stand your ground when an internal initiative is off base or you don’t agree with it.  I’ve stated previously that I believe that respectful open debate is the highest form of democracy. It also makes good business sense.  Stand for high quality.  Stand for holding people accountable when they’re proposing something you believe could damage the company’s reputation or waste time and resources.  Make your arguments fact based.

When people come to present their businesses to me I try my best not to grin fuck them.  I give direct, honest, blunt, polite and (I hope) useful feedback.  It isn’t always “rah rah.”   Last week I met with a founder who had sunk his personal money into buying a technology asset and hadn’t yet raised money – he was struggling a bit.  He told me that he had offers to sell the assets to somebody else.  I told him I thought he should sell the company rather than sink more money into his venture.  I told him to sell now even it it was at a loss.

I told him I thought it was too complicated of a business, he lacked the skills on his team to pull it off, it would take too much money and in the end I wasn’t sure it would be a valuable product.  I said as I always do, “my view point is ONE data point.  I might be wrong.  Get lots of data points.  Mix mine into your pot and see how it settles.  I’m not always right but I’d rather tell you what concerns me than to sweep it under the rug.”  In this gentleman’s case I was worried about his personal money because he wasn’t a 20 something.  He had a family.  And he was one of those guys that you meet and you just want to help because he’s so earnest and nice.

He wrote me afterward and here is our exchange:

Him:  “Mark,Cold shower and all, how did I take the heat? Did I take the tough message at least reasonably well? Always looking how I can get better.

Also – new terminology for delivering that type of news: “You Simonized me (as in Simon Cowell from American Idol)!! I grew up and played sports all my life. I come from a world that if the coach wasn’t yelling at you, it meant he didn’t care. I appreciate you giving it to me straight.”

Me:
“LOL. I didn’t mean to Simonize you. I care about you and just wanted to be sure that you didn’t waste any personal money. All startups are hard. Most lose money. Yours had more complexity and less engineering talent secured on the team than most. That’s all.”
Him:
“I understand and that is the way I took the feedback. Like I said, pleasantries do not help people learn. You helped me and I am grateful. I thank you for that”
To this gentleman I’m grateful for the feedback and I’m here to help if I can.  Maybe people humor me, I don’t know?  But I find that 70% of the time people prefer honesty as long as it’s delivered with care, with detail and with humility.  I get emails like the one above all the time.  People often tell me that I helped change their business by challenging some of their early thoughts.  It’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job.  I’m sure that 30% of the people thinking I’m a wanker for not saying I love what they’re doing.  I’m OK with that.  As long as I help other people by not grin fucking everybody.
I found that most VC’s never gave me any feedback when I was pitching.  The “loved what I was doing but were working on other things and would love to stay apprised of my progress.” Either that or they would “noodle on it and get back to me.”  Yeah, right!
Take the harder path.  Politely speak your mind.  Take a stand.  Join the debate.  Don’t be a grin fucker.  It makes life too boring.
Mark,
Cold shower and all, how did I take the heat? Did I take the tough message at least reasonably well? Always looking how I can get better.
Also – new terminology for delivering that type of news: “You Simonized me (as in Simon Cowell from American Idol)!! I grew up and played sports all my life. I come from a world that if the coach wasn’t yelling at you, it meant he didn’t care. I appreciate you giving it to me straight.

  • adamrubin

    Mark,

    I just found your blog via a tweet from Fred Wilson. This post deserves a standing ovation, or at least an 80's slow clap.

    I've worked with those people before, but never had the right term to describe them. Thanks for enlightening me. I look forward (well, not really) to the day I get to call someone out for being a grin fucker =)

  • ryan_BK_NYC

    Brilliant post, as usual. As a “Non-Native American” (my terminology for people who weren't raised here) I have always found it difficult to get a real sense of where I was going or how I was doing in every company I have worked for in the past 10+ years.
    In my training as an architect the concept of the “critique” instilled a tough yet subtle and flexible approach to accepting (mostly constructive) criticism of our design ideas. We developed the ability to hear things from different perspectives that often added valuable feedback that enriched our projects. In the “real world” I have found it difficult to transition that training into firms, even architecture firms, where people welcome being Grin Fucked with such pleasure that it is confusing. More often than not I find that mostly “Native” Americans relish this behavior, so I often gravitate to European or other “Non-Natives” since they share my BS-intolerance.

    My question is: What is it about this country that has allowed a whole society to evolve from the “Greatest Generation” into a spineless amoeba in such short order?
    Jason Calicanis touched on it briefly in his show, This Week In Startups episode #47 http://thisweekin.com/thisweekin-startups/twist…, with his concerns for GEN Y. I agree wholeheartedly but he may have limited it too much to the latest generation.

    I think that you are a gentleman for being forth right, constructive and honest with your feedback. Fuck anybody who thinks otherwise. You are only as good as your word and you only live once.

    Stay up.

  • ryan_BK_NYC

    Brilliant post, as usual. As a “Non-Native American” (my terminology for people who weren't raised here) I have always found it difficult to get a real sense of where I was going or how I was doing in every company I have worked for in the past 10+ years.
    In my training as an architect the concept of the “critique” instilled a tough yet subtle and flexible approach to accepting (mostly constructive) criticism of our design ideas. We developed the ability to hear things from different perspectives that often added valuable feedback that enriched our projects. In the “real world” I have found it difficult to transition that training into firms, even architecture firms, where people welcome being Grin Fucked with such pleasure that it is confusing. More often than not I find that mostly “Native” Americans relish this behavior, so I often gravitate to European or other “Non-Natives” since they share my BS-intolerance.

    My question is: What is it about this country that has allowed a whole society to evolve from the “Greatest Generation” into a spineless amoeba in such short order?
    Jason Calicanis touched on it briefly in his show, This Week In Startups episode #47 http://thisweekin.com/thisweekin-startups/twist…, with his concerns for GEN Y. I agree wholeheartedly but he may have limited it too much to the latest generation.

    I think that you are a gentleman for being forth right, constructive and honest with your feedback. Fuck anybody who thinks otherwise. You are only as good as your word and you only live once.

    Stay up.

  • http://twitter.com/amitseshan Amit Seshan

    As the size of an organization grows, the fraction of grinfuckers also grows (superlinearly, since status-quo preservation, and perpetuation of power hierarchy, sans truthseeking is essential to protecting turf, hence personal status, in a larger company).

  • http://twitter.com/amitseshan Amit Seshan

    As the size of an organization grows, the fraction of grinfuckers also grows (superlinearly, since status-quo preservation, and perpetuation of power hierarchy, sans truthseeking is essential to protecting turf, hence personal status, in a larger company).

  • Jack

    There has been quite a few comments on the net against Accenture’s core values. I just quit yesterday. Its the most wise thing I have done in my life. Its disgusting to experience and observe the horror unfolding in the company. Its just a matter of time when ACN will become another Blue-chip company loosing its clothes in public because of bad corporate practises.

    To those who are researching the company before you join them : These days having Accenture experience goes against you in the industry as the entire Tech services sector considers Accenture work culture to be appalling. And hence anyone from Accenture is considered as ‘AIDS’. I’m not being vindictive, just plain frank.

    You can bid you skills goodbye by being with them as it is never encouraged. I was in the Manager level after having extensive IT experience in the industry and a degree from Stanford. The politics practised by everyone from team lead and up have made the environment toxic. Which any imbecile knows is a recipe for disaster.

    Now that I work for a fantastic financial institution, I really pity the ones still stuck there due to the recession.

    Accenture – A cesspool of dirty politics, incompetence and mercenary kind of culture .

    To all employees who may be looking at a career at Accenture due to lack of information – Please stay away. You will be doing a favor to yourself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Net-Jacobsson/513434100 Net Jacobsson

    Mark, I hate grin fuckers. Especially from NorthCal. BTW, my recommendation for your next post: “Don't be Simonizer” ;-)

  • Cman11

    The worst grin fuckers are the ones who tell you with the first 5 minutes what a big christian they are and how they only do business according to “christian standards.” I'm not sure exactly what that last part means but usually you end up being conned if you don't split immediately.