“The neurotic who learns to laugh at himself may be on the way to self-management, perhaps to cure.” —Victor Frankl
One of the more frightening individuals featured in Bad Blood is a man with the most incompatible name I’ve ever known: Sunny. Sunny was not named for his disposition. Throughout the book, he roved in and out of the narrative as a dark and menacing cloud. His intimidating manner and manipulative tactics made him a bully, paranoid and cruel, and he served as the punishing enforcer of every terrible decree that came from the CEO’s office. It’s hard to describe the man without venturing too deep into the book but, suffice to say, he embodies the worst possible boss I could ever imagine. I lost count of the number of people he fired; he’d fire people left and right on a whim, constantly churning new employees.
Many stories involve the man reducing his employees to tears. So there was a lot of bite to Sunny. But there was some hollow bark, too. One of the best stories involved the tactics some employees used to manage the man.
Sunny demanded to know all things at all times. He maintained strict security measures—cameras everywhere—to control and limit the flow of information; it was all supposed to go to him and Holmes 1 and no one else.
Some very clever engineers discovered a startling pattern with Sunny’s constant desire to know and control everything. Yes, he was a tyrant. Yes, he seemed to want all the information. But that oppressive desire went away when they really gave him all the information. For example, when answering Sunny’s emails, the engineers would write responses containing more than 500 words. Such lengthy messages would exhaust Sunny’s patience and he’d leave them alone.
Similarly, these same engineers would invite Sunny to their staff meetings. Not because they wanted him there. No, by including him, they effectively bored him to death with all the information he feared they would otherwise hold back. After a few such meetings, Sunny would get bored, lose interest, and leave them alone.
But my favorite aspect of Sunny was his deep insecurity over his lack of technical knowledge. During meetings, engineers would use the term “end effector” for a type of machine part. Sunny misheard the term and would instead say “endofactor”. There is no such thing as an “endofactor”. Phonetically, I understand how he arrived at that but, again, there is no such thing as an “endofactor”.
Yet, Sunny used the term with great confidence, passing off an air of technical expertise. So the engineers rolled with it. At one point, they gave a presentation to Sunny with the title “Endofactors Update” since it was such an obviously important thing for the man. Sunny was never the wiser to this prank and, when he left the room, the engineers burst out laughing.
This horrible boss, this cruel and hurtful person, wanted so much to be seen as a technical equal that he diminished himself rather quickly to a mere poser.
To return to the opening quote from Frankl, the idea of a neurotic laughing at their neuroses is meant to illustrate how people can uncouple their behaviors from their fears so that it doesn’t control them. People suffering from deep phobias have found ways to overcome their fears by first becoming self-aware, then self-detached from it, and then re-attaching with a bit of self-humor. Awareness, detachment, and humor. Together, these help phobia sufferers live a life of their choosing (a more meaningful life) rather than a life controlled by the fear.
Looking back at the story of Bad Blood, it is quite clear that Sunny ruled with an iron fist because of his constant fear. He was consumed with paranoia. Fear of what he knew; fear of what he didn’t know. He tried to cover this fear by inflicting terror on his employees.
I’m sure there’s a tie-in to the notion of finding meaning for our work but I don’t want to reach for it. Instead, today is more about sharing a funny, interesting story. A tangential point is that humor is vital for us all. If we can’t laugh at ourselves from a place of self-detachment, we’ll probably just curse ourselves from a place of self-absorption.
Photo of an end effector from Wikimedia Commons