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Edition 3 · BS or Brilliant: Basecamp's wrongspeak

Updated: Nov 24, 2021


“It’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen and to hear, and every time you silence somebody you make yourself a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something.”

Christopher Hitchens - Summarizing John Milton's' Areopagitica.

Should a company place limits on speech? Should they nudge employees toward healthier habits? A hirsute philosophical question is right up there on the list of things we love at Cut the Crap , and the Basecamp letter posed many. We noodled on this one a lot.

In the end, off goes its head. Basecamp’s controversial memo belongs in the bullshit bin.

Here’s a synopsis of what happened for those unfamiliar:

  • Basecamp banned political and social issue chatter at the virtual, proverbial water cooler.

  • People were f****** pissed

  • Shit hit the fan.

  • Basecamp offered severance to whoever wanted to leave.

  • One third of Basecamp employees did. Ouch!

But why is Basecamp’s move bullshit? To understand - it makes sense to tell you a little about why we started Cut the Crap.

At a fundamental level, we believe conversations are best when they’re free, open, and interesting. The discussion at most meetings and events we attended were anything but. Corporatized, predictable, and pregnant with buzzwords. Publicly, director-types spoke within well-defined bounds, never daring to freestyle or show a scintilla of personality. Inside companies, lively debate and thoughtful disagreement were undervalued, buried by a desire to ‘keep the peace’. The net result? A droning, narcotized monoculture.

It’s not difficult to understand why Basecamp would want an apolitical workplace. Discourse is not in a healthy place in polarized America. Seeking difference trumps finding common ground. Most seek to ‘own’, rather than to understand.The insistence on being right leaves us in a dangerous place.

But rather than doing the work to nurture a culture of respectful, open debate and considered disagreement, Basecamp took the easy route and shut it down completely.

May a workplace treat its employees as children? An unfamiliar outsider reading Jason Fried’s letter might assume that was his intended audience. And who should have the right to dictate the contents of a conversation? Or what one could read or hear. No one in the stratosphere is qualified for this job. Not Jason Fried. Not Lebron James. Nor Obama. And definitely not Mark Zuckerburg. Tech-CEOs need to get the hell over their God complex.

Of course, Basecamp did specify that employees may do whatever they want outside of work. So generous! But there’s one problem. That's where we spend a third of our lives.

In a vital company, the watercooler and its digital variations can be a place where you’re pushed and exposed to new ideas. If not there, one wonders whether they might happen at all. Why is free and open conversation desirable? Call the fire brigade. The hot takes are coming.

  • Dissent and disagreement force you to fortify your own opinion. Yep, that includes the anti-vaxxers and the flat earthers. If you want to credibly refute something, the burden rests on you to prove why you know what you know. Opposition encourages meticulousness. This feels like a good time to phone in that clever cookie John Stuart Mill.

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion”

  • Sometimes, the truth is in the middle of two warring forces.

  • Ideas have sex with each other and have smart, hot babies.

  • It helps you sniff out the BSers.

So while we can appreciate Basecamp’s boldness, this memo belongs in the deep sea…. 🦑

Caveat: This is an indictment of the memo, not the company. Basecamp do great work. We admire their courage to try interesting things and are sure they’ll continue to do them, but this one’s a miss.


How does this seemingly standard restaurant pour more champagne than any in the UK? The products are the same. The prices are decent, but not discounted.

The answer lies in the power of novelty and surprise. Bob Bob Ricard is far from ‘Dom Perignon as usual’. Instead, customers are treated to the magic of a ‘press for champagne’ button at every table. Pop those bottles!

WHY WE LOVE IT The button is simple, fun and effective. Not to mention silly and unexpected. Us homosapiens aren’t quite as advanced as we think. Constantly on the hunt for what’s new and exciting. Our curious, slightly advanced-monkey brains can’t resist prodding that button. We’re slaves to our own curiosity. WHY SO SERIOUS: DID ADVERTISING LOSE ITS SENSE OF HUMOUR?

Brilliant ideas like the Bob Bob Ricard champagne button stand in contrast to an overserious ad industry. Kantar data shows humor in advertising to be at a 20 year low.

Analysis of Cannes Lions award data by BMB shows the same to be true for awarded work. Good ol’ fashion laughter was replaced by its more serious cousin ‘purpose’. Buzzed by the intoxicating allure of brand purpose, guilty that the primary goal of their work is to sell things, marketers attempt to imbue their work with a faux sense of meaning. The result is a fluffy ocean of pompous overstatements and hollow manifestos. Why so serious?

BONUS POINTS FOR ORIGINALITY In a world of best practices and feature parity, everything starts to look and feel the same. Monotony becomes the norm. Clients and stakeholders say they want something innovative and bold, then ask for a proven track record. By the way, what are our competitors doing? The pioneering spirit is decimated in a sea of benchmarking, creative reviews, and corporate crapola until everyone ends up with the same ol’ shite. In this place, levity, humor and surprise gain supreme value. A Mona Lisa in a room of amateur art. Bob Bob Ricard scores top points for transforming mundane ordering into something extraordinary! THE CHALLENGE So, a challenge to you dear reader. How can you take something boring and infuse it with creativity? Where can you add surprise and novelty? So much of marketing and customer experiences (especially online experiences) copycat what others do. You know the drill.

Buy a thing Get asked for a review. Would you recommend it to a friend? Get retargeted with said thing all across the internet Get unwillingly subscribed to a mailing list Try and unsubscribe until you perish Adding more of the same is the opposite of differentiation. And it certainly won’t help you sell the most champagne! So, some parting words marketing's high priest Fernando Machado to close us out. “Creativity helps you make the most of your budget”

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