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How not to manage a business, starring Twitter's Elon Musk

How not to manage a business, starring Twitter's Elon Musk

Well, you can say one thing about Elon Musks' management style: it's different.

Credit: Twitter

By the time you read this, there's a decent chance Twitter will be dead in the water. Technically, there are many reasons I can safely predict its coming crash, but I'm not here to talk about Twitter remote procedure calls (RPCs) or its SMS Two-Factor Authentication failures.

No, even worse than the technical land mines ahead for Twitter are billionaire Elon Musk's management blunders.

I know, some of you are saying, "Musk is a genius! You just don't understand!" Actually, I do. Musk is brilliant... at some things. He has great engineering vision. He has passion. That's why he is largely responsible for the commercialisation of space with SpaceX and the rebirth of the electric car with Tesla.

But — and this is a big but — just because you're great at one thing doesn't mean you're even competent at other things.

I'm a pretty good writer, but only a fool would hire me to write an opera aria or do even simple carpentry. I know what my limits are. Musk doesn't.

After months of fighting with Twitter management, Musk finally ended up grossly overpaying for the social media powerhouse. So, what's the first thing he does? He tries to save money by firing half the staff.

After months of uncertainty, Twitter staff morale was already in the pits. Even if you've kept your job, you go to work feeling like crap. Besides, who do you report to now? What's your job today? It sure can't be the same as it was the day before.

But wait! There are more job cuts. And, whoops! He accidentally fired some essential people. Got to hire them back!

Sure, Musk has done this management by hysteria and fear before. You know what, though? Software services aren't cars or rockets. No one at Twitter is going to Mars or revolutionising how we travel.

There's no overriding vision. There's no startup with golden stock options. There's just an existing, unprofitable social network. And even as tech layoffs make the news, the underlying reality is the tech unemployment rate is a paltry 2.3 per cent. Another, better job is just down the 101 for many of Twitter's remaining employees.

Besides, throwing more hours at software development doesn't work. We've known that since Fred Brooks published "The Mythical Man-Month" in 1975.

So, can anyone be surprised that Twitter employees are quitting? With every worker who quits, another bit of technical expertise walks out the door.

Many of the best and brightest have already left. As Will Norris, former Twitter open-source lead, told me, "Pretty much all of the key people that were working on open source at Twitter have left. All of the engineers that I worked with on open source are gone." Twitter, by the way, runs on open-source software.

Those developers Musk showed working at 1:30 in the morning? It's just a stupid publicity stunt. The programmers I know aren't fond of pointless meetings at the best of times. But you do what you must to preserve your job if you don't have a choice. Just don't expect any runnable code to come out of it.

Leaving that aside, Twitter still needs to make money, so besides cutting vital staffers and making the rest of them miserable, Musk's Twitter is also refusing to pay its bills. And as part of his usual playbook, Musk is also threatening Twitter employees and its debtors with bankruptcy. I've always found that works well with friends, partners, and employees.

Of course, he could always, I don't know, increase income. Historically, Twitter has done that with advertising. So, what does he do? He alienates advertisers.

Musk makes the idiotic claim that advertisers are against free speech. No, they just don't want to be associated with racism, Donald Trump, and smut. Imagine that!

Musk's first attempt to make Twitter profitable by other means was a Twitter Blue rebranding that gave any user who'd pony up $8 per month any name they wanted. Not long afterward, a fake Eli Lily account "announced" that "insulin is free now." A few billion dollars of market cap loss later, Musk pulled this change, while Eli Lily pulled its advertising. I don't expect it’ll ever come back.

Would you?

And how can we forget Musk's most popular tweet to date, an image of a woman showing her bare bottom (covered by a Twitter logo) to Jesus, who's labeled "Trump.” Classy, eh? Is this the service you want representing your brand? I sure don't.

Musk is driving Twitter's business into the ground. Heck, maybe he wants to force it into bankruptcy. To quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me… They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are…  Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different."

Not better, different.

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