Brian Solis, one of Digital’s most recognised thought leaders, recommended “Disrupted: Ludicrous Misadventures in the Tech Startup Bubble” by Dan Lyons as a great read.
Now, you may not know this but in our office Brian Solis is THE man. It’s a standing joke that anyone coming to work for us has to stand and salute the book every morning. There was talk of creating a shrine but hero worship might be a step too far and also creepily reminiscent of the famous scene from the film, “Life of Brian” (he’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”).
Suffice to say, however, that much of what we stand for has been shaped in part by Brian’s books, such as “What’s the Future of Business? Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences” and the latest tome: “X: The Experience when Business meets Design”.
So it was quite a coup when our content marketing manager Josh met and interviewed Brian at the World Travel Market two weeks ago. You can check out the interview with its pithy observations about digital marketing right here.
Therefore we were interested to see just what Dan Lyons’ book might offer. As it turns out, it resonated so much I was positively vibrating when I read it!
Dan Lyons is a 50-something ex-journo at Newsweek. He was ceremoniously laid off and faced an uncertain future until finding a job with Inbound Marketing giant Hubspot. I was laid off from my job too and at 51 years of age decided to completely reinvent myself; first as a content writer and then as a digital marketer. It’s been a tough journey but ultimately very satisfying, so I was fascinated to see just how Lyons would get on with a new gen company like Hubspot.
On one hand, Dan’s account of what contemporary marketing looks like through the lens of Hubspot is hilarious. I have sat in so many meetings where the jargon is so pervasive it feels like we are speaking an alien language. Chapter 5 begins like this:
So U can be the DRI on this, or Jan and I can be DRIs together, and we’ll coordinate to work some potential KPIs and then we can all meet again in like a week or two and we’ll present some ideas and then we can develop an SLA. Does that sound good?’
No actually, it sounds desperate. Throughout the book Lyons puts a lens onto the workings of marketing and for all its optimism and revolutionary talk you can’t help feeling the ‘same old’ same olds’ are beginning to surface. Take email marketing for example. Hubspot don’t send spam. After all, people have signed up to hear from them. In fact the process of spamming is now called “nurturing”. I’m sure George Orwell would have added this to his 1984 update if he’d had the chance to revise it.
In fact, Orwell’s ghost is spookily present when anyone leaves Hubspot or is fired:
‘When someone quits or gets fired, the event will be referred to as ‘graduation’. This really happens over and over again…we’ll get an email saying “Team, just letting you know that Derek has graduated from Hubspot, and we’re excited to see how he uses his superpowers in his next big adventure!” Only then do you notice that Derek is gone, that his desk has been cleared out…people just go up in smoke like Spinal Tap drummers”.
Lyon puts his finger on exactly what’s strangely squeamish about life in the 21st century marketing game. How many times have you read ‘inspiring people’ or ‘being remarkable, conquering fear and being rock stars?’ We seem to be living in a super meme and the optimism and excitement we witnessed 15 years ago has become a mantra that people say but don’t really believe. Mission statements become outlandish and the problem is it all becomes another marketing tool that’s rather cynical.
When superlatives or made up nonsense such as ‘delightion’ invade the working lexicon it becomes, to quote Lyons, “nutty horseshit”. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all change and adapt.
There were times where Lyons was painfully acerbic and I felt so uncomfortable as I read. I actually empathised with so much of what he was feeling. I know how easy it is for people to make other people’s working lives a total misery. Half of me felt Lyons was mad to have written the book and the end proved that it may well transpire to be a risky venture. But this story really did need to be told.
What I would say is this book really shows up some of the more unpleasant work practices that have grown up amidst the optimism of the brave new world. If you want a short, sharp shock regarding how not to treat people then this book will certainly give you that. Or, if you’ve ever wondered why businesses post massive losses but still manage to make some people obscenely rich then the answers are all here.
However, if you’re a 40-something and worried about your future career then don’t read this book; its revelations are truly frightening and the reasons why I run my own agency. If people won’t open the door to you then knock through another opening and set up your own brass plate. Meanwhile, you’ll never look at Hubspot in the same way again.
Suggested Further Reading:
• Guardian Interview with Dan Lyons (theguardian.com)
• From Tech Reporter to Silicon Valley and Back Again (wired.com)
• Was Dan Lyons a ‘Widget’ at Hubspot? (forbes.com)
Vivienne K Neale Digital is a digital marketing agency in Hertfordshire, UK. We aim to help SMEs overcome marketing hurdles and create compelling digital content that drives results. If you need a leg-up with your content marketing do get in touch via our contact page for a free Skype consultation 🙂