David Heinemeier Hansson

March 25, 2022

A state of sunshine

The contrast couldn't have been starker. About a year ago, we were going through a really difficult time at Basecamp, after instituting a new etiquette around societal politics at work. Twenty-odd employees took our 3-6 months severance offer, and we became the main characters on Twitter for a moment. Today, we've just finished a wonderful week in Miami hosting the first company meet-up in two and half years, connecting with all our many new awesome coworkers, celebrating a Basecamp that's bigger and on a better course than ever before, as well as cherishing the spirit, camaraderie, and optimism now present.

This did not seem like an assured outcome in the darkest moments last year. When things are difficult, it's tempting to lose hope, regret your principles, and shrivel from the occasion. But rarely is the outlook as dim as you imagine, and rarely are the consequences as harsh as you envision. They certainly weren't for us. What transpired a year ago already feels like it's ten years in the past to me.

The passage of time just puts everything in perspective. Jason and I made some principled decisions about the type of company we wanted to run last year, and it's clear now that despite the difficult transition, those were the right decisions for us in the long haul.

The gift of a real crisis is the clarity it brings by forcing you to question the fundamentals. It blows away the groves of thought that usually keep you on a given trajectory without much contemplation. Leaving you with a choice: Go back to whatever you were doing before, or do something new. We choose the latter.

This connects to Taleb's theory of antifragility. You can be strong yet brittle. Capable of withstanding immense pressure, but shattering in a thousand pieces if your limits are exceeded. Or you can be antifragile. Bouncing back better from breakage. Like a muscle growing stronger by being pulled. It's better to be antifragile than it is to be strong.

The other perspective is that most people just don't care or think about your temporary struggles nearly as much as you might imagine they do. The vast majority of customers care about you delivering a great service at a reasonable price above all else. The vast majority of prospective employees care about whether they can see themselves at your company, not how others couldn't.

But you just can't appreciate such axioms in the midst of trouble. So you should take care to appreciate them when it's become clear that they are true. That's where we are now, and have been for a while. The uncertainty of what might happened replaced by the certainty of what did happen. And the relief that not only wasn't it as bad as feared, but it turned out better than we dared hope.

I'm sure we'll have more specific observations to share about what transpired at Basecamp last April, but for now, I'll just share one tactic that has proved remarkably effective in preventing a regression, as we hire so many new people. It's this statement we now include in all our openings:

We respect everyone's right to participate in political expression and activism, but avoid having political debates on our internal communication systems. Basecamp as a company also does not weigh in on politics publicly, outside of topics directly related to our business. You should be at peace with both of these stances.

That's the signal that you needn't apply to an opening at Basecamp, if our etiquette on societal politics at work isn't compatible with what you want out of a job. Being upfront about this has worked wonders to ensure we attract folks who can see themselves at a company like Basecamp, and that those who don't apply elsewhere.

Ultimately, we've found definitive proof of the new calm in the Miami sun. The world is full of great people who not only can but embrace working with others of different political backgrounds without litigating their differences at work. It's a thrill for Jason and I to be able to steer a company full of such individuals toward great new products and improvements.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.