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.

  • http://www.seekomega.com Mark Fidelman

    Love it Love it Love it, I have met many of these people in the past. You're just brave enough to name names and expose the practice. Well done.

  • http://markgslater.wordpress.com/ markslater

    thats not an english slang phrase. i was on the receiving end of the rubbish being spewed out of mckinsey in the late 90's and i have to say there are fewer “disciplines” if you can call it that (strategy consultants) that i have less respect for. watched as armies of newly minted MBA's crawled all over our portfolio companies extracting what they could from those willing to give them the time of day (that was me and not the engineers fyi) and then re-gurgitating the same constructs back on to a fancy powerpoint with effusive MBA speak phrases that thinly disguised the heist at hand. Several groups left and started companies. Engineers have a healthy loathing for people like me who fall more on the business side of the company – but thats nothing when compared to the “strats'.

    sorry to be harsh but as there were some brightspots – there was a firm called PRTM who were superb. They were essentially plug-in employees (deep engineering types)

  • http://www.ericstownsend.com/ Eric S. Townsend

    dude — this got me thinking a bit. and i agree that you'd think there must a be cutoff once company gets too small. however, think outside of the box on this (as in outside of business). what does the information on rapes point to? isn't it something crazy in favor of people the woman knows doing it to them? interesting. i wonder if it doesn't matter about the dynamics at all.

  • http://markgslater.wordpress.com/ markslater

    minger, sort, pratt, bell end, its endless the further east or south in london you go..

  • http://markgslater.wordpress.com/ markslater

    minger, sort, pratt, bell end, its endless the further east or south in london you go..

  • http://markgslater.wordpress.com/ markslater

    minger, sort, pratt, bell end, its endless the further east or south in london you go..

  • dereklicciardi

    Happens too often. Most of the time, I think it is because the VC doesn't want to go further with the discussion. They found a couple of issues with the idea and have moved on. Giving the entrepeneur feedback invites counter discussions. Not grin fucking them requires meaningful dialogue when meaningful dialogue is exactly what they want to avoid simply because somewhere along the line, the idea/plan didn't pass through one of their filters. I've pitched our idea many times and unfortunately haven't found the right investor yet. I've received feedback once, maybe twice. Every other time was “We'll noodle on it.” or some other phrase designed to leave the door open for their investment after all the hard work was done by someone else.

    Frankly, it's part of what gives many VCs a bad reputation and all the good VCs have to deal with it. If only there was a way to sort it all out. As an entrepreneur, I always just tell it like it is and I've lost more “bad” contracts to a lower bidder than I care to think about but in the end, I live by no business is better than bad business which is just a result of not grin fucking someone.

  • http://markgslater.wordpress.com/ markslater

    thats exactly right mark about consultants – i was harsher in my post – but you captured it better here.

    seeing those consultants “grin like cheshire cats” while the told us what we already knew was taking the michael frankly

  • http://markgslater.wordpress.com/ markslater

    i'd argue it the speed of hiring – not the size per se. if you are doing a 'get big quick' then you will see a lot of grin fukin going on

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Comment received. Well done! ;-)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. Swear words in different languages can get you in lots of trouble. One of my favorite incidences was when I was in France. I was pissed off that the waiter brought the starter course to everybody at the table except me. He then cleared everybody's plate. I told him that he never brought mine.

    He said “I'll bring it now.” I said, “don't bother, I don't want my starter when everybody else is on their main course.” He said, “you must take it – you ordered it!” Having just finished working in Italy and not really meaning what I was about to say I said, under my breath, “Va Fonculo.”

    Him (loud enough so the whole restaurant could hear) : “Va fonculo? Va fonculo? I'm Italian. I don't come to your restaurant and tell you 'fuck you.' ”

    I was silent and mortified. He was right. It was so fun saying va fonculo with friends when it didn't really sound like it meant anything. Doh!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I afraid that communications are country / culture specific so you need to adapt. For example, I lived in Japan where “saving face” is really important or try spending time in Israel where people are uber blunt. You can't take one of these people into the other culture without some changes in approach.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    No, the irony certainly wasn't lost on me! I hope that came across in my comments about what BS all the consulting speak was.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Jason, yes, “effing and blinding” is very British. I still use it here and nobody (except my wife) knows what I'm talking about. I also love the term “telling a porky pie.”

    re: consultants – I agree. Maybe I didn't state that clearly enough in the blog post. I think most strategy consulting projects are run by super bright people who have never run anything in their lives. How can they give you advice?

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Sounds like a great book. I also really liked “Made in America” by Bill Bryson where he talks about the etymology of the English language having lived on both sides of the pond. One more strange difference. In the US when you “table something” in business it means to hold off until the next meeting. In the UK it means to discuss it now. Exact opposite. Funny, huh?

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Great point. My view. If you're at a cocktail party and people ask what you do in the first instance I assume it's a polite conversation starter so I keep it simple, “I invest in small companies.” 50% of the time the conversation moves on and I didn't have to bore then. If they want to know more then they begin to ask a series of questions. Only then do I expand.

  • tomhuntingford

    Thanks! Unfortunately the “saving face” principle applies here too…

  • http://www.jasonwolfe.co.uk/ Jason Wolfe

    Having seen video footage of you, and noting you've retained your US accent, the thought of you using some of this British slang is highly amusing. A sort of entrepreneurial-Dick-van-Dyke-from-Mary-Poppins springs to mind..

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. Thanks, Mike! Actually, I've already written that post. I plan to drop it in the next few weeks. Just need to edit.

  • http://giffconstable.com giffc

    absolutely. And on the startup side, it's a marvelous way to practice explaining your concept in plain English and no more than 2 sentences!

    plain English… I was just groaning the other day at how much easier it is for me to edit my friend's exec summaries into plain, clear language than my own!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Speaking of feedback, I still owe you an email, right? Sorry, I'm behind on that. If you send again it will be top of the stack and I promise best efforts at a quick turn around.

  • http://twitter.com/RHLiz Liz Quilty

    Ahh i hate grin fuckers, people love/hate me, because im generally honest. I don't see the point in lieing to a person about something, it doesn't do anyone any good.
    Some people love me for it, some hate me, most hate me temporarily then come back later with a 'you were right, it was just hard to hear it'.
    On the other side, im trying to reword things so they are easier to take, and slightly less offensive to others. I'm not into pointless abuse either :)

  • piercelamb

    As a 24yr old who likes to speak his mind in his business, I've never felt so reinforced :)

  • eugmandel

    Mark,

    I love this post!
    First, because I can't stand people BS'ing around instead of just saying what's on their mind.
    Second, after months and months of very polite, thoughtful and moderate posts, you drop the F bomb. Dave McClure is a master of carpet f-bombing. This makes this post a “smart f-bomb” :).

  • ido

    A-f*cking-MEN!

    great post…and no, im not grin f*cking you.

  • dereklicciardi

    Sent. Thanks.

  • drewcwsj

    I'd agree VCs are just horrific grin fuckers. As a startup founder I have a pretty good elevator pitch and work the social scene to meet VCs. Most listen to the pitch and then say if there is a potential fit or not. The interested ones typically request an exec summary/business plan at this point 95% turn into GF'ers. No matter how many times I follow up by email and eventually phone I don't even get the simple pleasure of a “not interested” much less the “not interested and here is why”. My personal mantra to handle all this rejection is not to think of them as GF'ers as much as just plain old-fashioned jerks. I have no time or energy for jerks in my life so no real opportunity lost.

    Of course this is all just greater motivation for me to succeed and eventually someday at some big celebration party to look the jerks in the eye tell them to take a hike.

  • Rob K

    Mark- I love the term 'Grin Fuck' and I'm pretty sure it's American. The best example I ever heard was the customer service rep at the airline counter. And thanks to your blog, I now know what 'onanist' means. :)

  • Rob K

    I feel the same way about many VCs. It's why I left VC.

  • alexbard

    I think the terminology comes from somewhere in Canada as that is when I first heard it 7 years ago while pitching a big canadian telco. I walked out of a meeting with 10 senior execs thinking that I landed a big fish.

    My sponsor for the meeting (and investor) who was in attendance said, “No my friend, you just got grin fucked…everyone is going to walk away from the meeting and forget that you exist…even though they all smiled, nodded and agreed with everything you said…”

    CLASSIC…

  • Tom O

    It's an American problem. Everyone gets a medal. No child gets “left behind.”

    Your time in England probably accounts for your honesty. Americans don't realize it but as an immigrant I feel more censored in America than in my own dictator-ruled country. Because there you only have to worry about criticizing the gov't. Here you have to worry about criticizing “anyone” even a kid.

    Simon Cowell and Dr. House are the monsters of modern American TV.

  • Laurent Boncenne

    Hahahaha ! You beat me I must admit !

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    taking the michael – that's a new one for me. we always said, “taking the mickey.” Also, the famous line about consultants was, “they take your watch and tell you what time it is.” Most of my time as a consultant was actually building systems. As soon as I became a PowerPoint Ninja I knew that I had jumped the shark. But I owed them service because they paid for my MBA ;-)

  • Ann Gaglioti

    to use a little UK slang… BRILLIANT post, Mark! These are definitely words to live by. I find that it is a top down thing. If the executive team are grin f@#$ers, it is pervasive. I have called it professional integrity; but it is just integrity.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Emailed you.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    There is so much value in honesty. As per the 'swear word' in your post, a friend of mine said. “Euphemisms of bad words are still bad words. Words are not created filthy. We give them meaning. So whenever you say “effing” or “fricking”… you're missing the fucking point.”

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I think Simon Cowell appeals so much in the US because people are tired of a society where people don't speak their minds. I grew up in a typically combative Jewish household so we grew up speaking our minds – even when it was best not to ;-) Britain just reinforced this behavior and added the curse words. Plus, my appreciate for ironic humor

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Hey, Ann! How's NorCal?

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    LOL. That was great. Does that mean you've forgiven me for my poorly chosen words on Fred's blog? ;-) I tried to edit but you can't edit unless it's your blog!

  • http://venturecompany.com/ Georges van Hoegaerden

    Well then Mark, if you really like the honesty and can take the reciprocity too, let me point you to venturecompany.com where I describe that most VCs have no political leg to stand on (by virtue of their empirical and statistical performance) to advise entrepreneurs on anything. In the marriage between the assets of the LP (money) and the assets of the entrepreneur (idea), it is the VC who needs help in being the proverbial matchmaker and finding more disruptive innovation that creates social economic value and public market trust, not the outliers able to provide it.

    So, I suggest you prove you can do that first before you give entrepreneurs advice about a compass that has generated no more than a 3% success rate, loses tons of LP money (some estimates point to $1.7 Trillion in the last 10 years) and has pissed away public trust.

    You may be different in your individual performance (as an operator having joined GRP recently) as it relates to venture and I sincerely hope so, but the endless teachings by VC that in the end has yielded only subprime and micro-PE returns is a testament of pointing the compass in the sector in the wrong direction.

    The problem is not with improving the investments our sector commits to, but with a dull (commoditized) investment thesis that is unable to find the outliers of innovation. So, as a new entrant to the investment business I suggest you teach your peers (other investors) how to create public trust and social economic value so groundbreaking entrepreneurs will see venture as a better custodian of innovation than where they are at today.

    So go invest, create public trust and then we'll assess the merit of whether or not your advice should be listened to.

    BTW: I do like this post and believe in the honesty you describe, many before you just do not have the merit to make smart entrepreneurs pay attention to it and makes your message just like theirs.

    Best,
    -Georges

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Hey Georges,

    I've read your analyses before. While a tough pill to swallow due to the blunt nature of your writing, I found it insightful and accurate. The industry has had laggard returns and needs to reform. So no arguments from me.

    I only hope I can do better. As I've fond of telling my close friends, “no matter how excited I get by the investments I'm making now, the truth is that it will be 7+ years before I'll really know the outcome. If I know sooner it's likely because I've failed.”
    Mark

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    No arguments here, Mark.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes, classic, indeed. And that is how the proverbial grin fuck is done!

  • http://markgslater.wordpress.com/ markslater

    thats not an english slang phrase. i was on the receiving end of the rubbish being spewed out of mckinsey in the late 90's and i have to say there are fewer “disciplines” if you can call it that (strategy consultants) that i have less respect for. watched as armies of newly minted MBA's crawled all over our portfolio companies extracting what they could from those willing to give them the time of day (that was me and not the engineers fyi) and then re-gurgitating the same constructs back on to a fancy powerpoint with effusive MBA speak phrases that thinly disguised the heist at hand. Several groups left and started companies. Engineers have a healthy loathing for people like me who fall more on the business side of the company – but thats nothing when compared to the “strats'.

    sorry to be harsh but there were some brightspots – there was a firm called PRTM who were superb. They were essentially plug-in employees (deep engineering types) who could run in parallel with folks on very complex problems. They added tremendous value.

  • http://www.teamsupport.com/ Eric Harrington

    I spent 4 yrs in the Marine Corps where we were trained to sniff out grin f**kers and punch them in the mouth. That usually breaks them from this horrible habit.

    Great post Mark.

  • http://markgslater.wordpress.com/ markslater

    thats exactly right mark about consultants – i was harsher in my post – but you captured it better here.

    seeing those consultants “grin like cheshire cats” while the told us what we already knew was taking the michael frankly

  • http://markgslater.wordpress.com/ markslater

    i'd argue it the speed of hiring – not the size per se. if you are doing a 'get big quick' then you will see a lot of grin fukin going on

  • onepage

    Of course I am not offended any more. I respect you greatly! Ans I have learnt so much reading your blog. I just feel sad any time it comes up but I have something planned to tackle it the problem. Be sure I will call on you when the time comes :)

  • http://venturecompany.com/ Georges van Hoegaerden

    Mark,

    Yes, I am writing in the direct style that is needed (albeit without f bombs) to cut out the nonsense produced by so many VCs, and to stop them from misleading entrepreneurs and thus LPs.

    Your chances as somebody with relevant operating experience are much better than most with none, so I hope that pans out for you. And seriously, do tell other VCs how to produce social economic value if they want to stay in business.

    As Einstein said “Your theorem defines what you can detect” and the theorem of many VCs needs to improve dramatically (as that will attract different entrepreneurs).

    Follow your own compass that you used as an entrepreneur and it should be easy to outperform the deplorable performance of your peers.

    Best,
    -Georges

  • Mark Suster's Fabulous Wife

    Dear Mark – more than 10 years ago, when we were both management consultants, the Client asked us to meet a direct competitor (another consultancy) to 'share information.' The esteemed Mark Suster and the venerated Ameet Shah sent ME to the meeting and told me to 'Grin F&*$k them.' Ha!

    Dear Readers – if Mark starts to Blog less know that it is Spring Break and his children might hide his computer. :)