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These comments have been invaluable to me as is this whole site. I thank you for your comment.

John C. Randolph

Shalizi's just jealous because Wolfram's rich.


Lance Knobel

I'm sure you're right about the organizational problems caused by assholes. But negative reviews are certainly more memorable than positive ones.

My all-time favorite is cosmologist Cosma Shalizi's review of Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science: . The headline, to give you an idea, is "A Rare Blend of Monster Raving Egomania and Utter Batshit Insanity".

Jason Yip

This post immediately made me think of The BileBlog,

Matt Wyndowe

This post was terrible.

(Sorry- I was going to write a positive comment about the post and how it certainly rang true to me; however, I'm working on sounding more intelligent, competent, and expert.)

Bob Sutton


Thanks for such a thoughtful post. I think "take care of each other" covers so much territory about human existence it is astounding. It reminds me of a lovely little exchange between Kurt Vonnegut and his grown son, in Vonnegut's book A Man Without a Country. Vonnegut asked his son the pediatrician,"What is life all about?" The answer was "Father we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is." I guess this things sometimes includes encounters with assholes.

Thanks again for the lovely comment.

Troy Steinmetz

Hi Professor Sutton. I stumbled across your blog and have found your discussion of assholes a very necessary and excitingly accessible way to talk about organizational culture.

This post brings up a great topic. I am instantly reminded of Keith Johnstone, the improv guru, who talks about status interactions in his masterwork, Impro.

Johnstone says that the quickest way to raise your status is to lower someone else's. This is because status, much like talent and intelligence, relies heavily upon perception and is a relative, not absolute, value. Status is not something one has, but rather something one does. It is performed, he says, as a defense mechanism.

In much the same way, while we have some indicators for intelligence and talent, these traits can often be performed and judged on a relative scale. (My mind instantly jumps to the MBA technobabble and wordsmanship in the business world today)

Interestingly, though, improvisers, when faced with assholes, do not become “victims …afraid to try new ideas.” Instead, they are trained to recognize the asshole and avoid him. Our no asshole rule is the heart of improv theory: “take care of each other.” It is our version of “first do no harm.” Therefore, it makes it easy and acceptable to shun the asshole, despite whatever talents he may have.

It all comes down to empowering your people to recognize assholes and get rid of them. If the organizational culture is well-defined in such a way to be an inhospitable environment for assholes, or status seekers, or intellectual charlatans, a team that requires a high level of collaboration will be better off, as trust and positive interaction will permeate.

Pamela Slim

This is so true! I found myself flashing back on so many instances of witnessing totally insensitive assholes get away with what amounts to emotional abuse of peers and subordinates all due to their perceived "critical creative value" to the organization. I also worked for many years with artistic masters from many different cultures who would sometimes stomp and scream at their students all in the name of beauty and art. (Somehow I forgave them more than the corporate dweebs since at least they had an indisputable talent and a track record to show it).

My favorite memory was team teaching a presentation skills class with another instructor who apparently thought that snide, condescending criticism would somehow improve her students' public speaking skills. The client who hired us to do the gig told me "You are too nice! you should be more like (anonymous name) and people will respect you more!" I stuck to my guns and gave specific, constructive and encouraging feedback to my students.

Whose students do you think gave better presentations? (ok, MINE!) :)

While I agree that beautifully written, cruel criticism is kind of titillating to read, when you think about the long-term effect on the recipient, it does nothing to improve an argument or product. Plus it just feels plain crappy.

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