The Vengeful Entrepreneur

Something happened in the entrepreneurial world that is so strange that I literally did a double take. Here is what was reported in the New York Times on May 25, 2016.

“A billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur was outed as being gay by a media organization. His friends suffered at the hands of the same gossip site. Nearly a decade later, the entrepreneur secretly financed a lawsuit to try to put the media company out of business.”

“That is the back story to a legal case that had already grabbed headlines: The wrestler Hulk Hogan sued Gawker Media for invasion of privacy after it published a sex tape, and a Florida jury recently awarded the wrestler, whose real name is Terry Gene Bollea, $140 million.”

“What the jury — and the public — did not know was that Mr. Bollea had a secret benefactor paying about $10 million for the lawsuit: Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and one of the earliest investors in Facebook.”

We have all heard the phrase, “don’t get mad – get even.” I think this example takes the concept to a whole new level.  Ultimately Gawker filed for bankruptcy, so I suppose that Thiel achieved his objective. Thiel claims that his financing of lawsuits against the company was about deterrence rather than revenge. But that is a bit hard to swallow. Several issues surface with this situation including whether it is right for wealthy people to use lawsuits to attack free speech. But that is a subject for others to discuss. The focal point for this blog is how we as entrepreneurs choose to react when we perceive that others have been unfair with us.

Undoubtedly, we have all experienced a time when the Golden Rule was taken out of the drawer and used to beat rather than measure us. And when this happens our first instinct may be to fight the injustice that we have experienced. Thoughts cross our minds like, “we’ll sue,” or “let’s steal one of their clients or employees.” This is perfectly natural . . . and totally unproductive. Of course, there are situations where it is perfectly valid to take legal action. But doing so out of revenge or spite may not be in our best interest.

I am making no judgment about Peter Thiel. But I know for myself that even a hint of vengeance in my persona is a very bad thing. Vengeance is nothing but negative energy which can lead to all sorts of undesirable consequences. Why take a chance on attracting illness, loss of relationships, financial hardship, and other unfavorable outcomes because we dwell in the negativity of revenge? Instead, why not focus on the goals and objectives at hand and deny the temptation to wander down the payback path? Rather than looking for retribution, look to use the injustice as a powerful incentive to succeed.

The English philosopher Francis Bacon once said, “A man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal.” In other words, wallowing in revenge keeps reminding us of our negative experience. It crowds out other thoughts and feelings that might be the new idea we need or the solution to a problem we have been seeking. The pursuit of punishment and retaliation keep us stuck in neutral and prevents us from moving forward. Competition is tough enough these days – why allow our competitors to lap us while we are stuck in the metaphorical pit stop of vengeance?

As entrepreneurs we fortunately make our own choices. Choosing not to accept the negative emotions that are associated with unfair or unjust treatment puts us that much closer to prize which we desire.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Minefield

A lot has been made in recent times over insensitivity, hurt feelings and words that are seemingly offensive. There are many sociological factors in play – I’m going to refrain from debating them. Our culture is shifting in seismic fashion and where it will end is anyone’s guess. It’s easy for the modern entrepreneur to get caught up in this brouhaha which I can assure you is a losing proposition. Staying out of the fray is relatively easy but requires discipline.

There are two sides to this coin. Let’s start with our reaction as an entrepreneur to things that are said to us and actions directed our way. We are going to take slings and arrows from a multitude of constituencies. Customers may say horrible things about us and our product or service. Team members may accuse us of a wide range of transgressions. What our competitors say may be even worse. Regulators, bureaucrats, politicians and members of the public in general may be generous in taking their shots at us. At times it may seem that we’re a punching bag and a pin cushion all rolled into one.

So here’s where the discipline enters the picture. It’s 100% our choice whether or not we let ourselves be hurt or otherwise impacted by what others say and do. This isn’t just a matter of having thick skin and amazing resilience. When someone says or does something to us that is negative, we must be able to dispassionately analyze the words or deeds and look for the truth. For example, suppose we are slammed by a customer for a defective product. A product review is posted online that says among other things, “the ABC Company produces a substandard product and their CEO is a crook for taking my money.” Actually, this is a pretty mild review but will work for illustrative purposes.

What is the truth here? Does our company really produce a substandard product? We have to be able to objectively evaluate this claim. Have there been other complaints? If so, how many? Is there a chronic problem with the product or do we truly have a Six Sigma level of success? Assume for a moment that our extremely low error rate is exceptional which allows us to know the real truth . . . we do not produce a substandard product. And the personal statement about the CEO is easily dismissed as an ad hominem attack. Personal attacks like this can generally be completely ignored because they are inherently dishonest. Of course we want to try and solve the problem encountered by our customer, but we choose not to be hurt by what has been said. Boiled down to its simplest form, this is a case of, “if the shoe fits, wear it.” And if it doesn’t, then don’t.

Now to the other side of the coin. How is what we say and do impacting others? This also requires discipline on our part. But again, it’s really very simple. We practice the Golden Rule whereby we treat others as we would want to be treated. Do we make it a practice to denigrate or berate others? Are we guilty of making ad hominem attacks of our own? Before we say something potentially contentious to someone else, do we stop for a brief moment and measure it against the Golden Rule? While it’s true that we all make a choice as to whether we will be hurt or offended, it’s important that we as entrepreneurs try and avoid putting others in the position of having to make such a choice. This doesn’t mean we have to walk on eggshells or adopt political correctness. Instead, we must understand our audience and try and be sensitive to how they might react to us. I’ve always found that focusing on the Golden Rule in such situations is usually sufficient to avoid trampling on the feelings of others.

The interpersonal functioning of society today is fascinating, but can also be bewildering. We choose not to be hurt by what others say and do, and we practice the Golden Rule when communicating or taking action. Taking this approach will help us skirt around the current cultural minefield.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 32 – Three-Legged Stool.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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