Deleted From The Bucket List: Basecamp And BrewDog

Joost Minnaar
Written by Joost Minnaar June 30, 2021

Last month, Future of Work skeptics must have felt satisfaction at seeing both Basecamp and BrewDog fall from grace and lose their rock-star employer status. Equally, Future of Work apostles will have been caught by surprise, feeling disappointed and even fooled. To me it reinforced a principle we established at the start of Corporate Rebels: 'I'll believe it when I see it.'

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Basecamp's tragedy

Over recent months a lot has been written about software company Basecamp after CEO Jason Fried published a blog post on "policy changes". It announced (among other culture changes) that Basecamp would ban “societal and political discussions” from company platforms.

This now-infamous post escalated quickly within and without the organization. People just didn't seem to like it, as demonstrated by the pubic outcry. Despite a mea culpa by Fried, nearly a third of Basecamp's workforce left in the aftermath.

I'm still not sure what to think about this move by the Basecamp leaders. But one thing is clear: Basecamp, once one of the brightest stars in the Future of Work universe, burned out this year.

BrewDog's revelation

BrewDog's co-founders, James Watt & Martin Dickie, must have noted the Basecamp tragedy with an ass-twitching feeling. They had claimed for years, on social media, to have built a human-centric workplace culture.

Whereas, in reality, it seems they built a toxic culture based on fear—with staff afraid to speak out. At least that is what more than 100 former BrewDog employees claimed in an open letter published in June.

The letter reveals that BrewDog's progressive workplace reputation seems to be little more than a marketing-driven facade built on a “cult of personality”.

In fact, the letter claims that working at BrewDog led a significant number of former employees to become mentally ill. It also says that responsibility for the toxic culture lies with co-founder, Watt.

While Watt offered his own penance the open letter had let the genie out of the bottle.

As in the Basecamp tragedy, BrewDog's revelation proved again that the bigger, more famous, or publicity-thirsty you are, the harder you fall.

Basecamp And BrewDog, once two of the brightest stars in the Future of Work universe, both burned out this year.
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Mirages

Although Basecamp and BrewDog were on our Bucket List, we did not get the chance to visit them (yet).

And yes, we were guilty of believing the social media driven mirages they created about their workplaces. In the past we shared some of the inspirational stuff coming from their channels, or their books, but we didn’t report extensively on them yet.

These recent, rather painful disclosures from (former) employees moved us to remove both companies and their founders from our Bucket List.

In our book we wrote about that list: "We jotted down the names of those who inspired us. Naturally, Ricardo Semler was at the top of our list. But Richard Branson, Spotify, Simon Sinek, Google, and Dan Pink quickly followed.

Our Bucket List became more refined with time, a list of progressive organisations, entrepreneurs, academics and writers who have something to teach the world about radically different ways of working.

We wanted to see and speak to all of them and share everything that we learned on a blog."

As we wrote, the main reason we visit all these workplace pioneers in real life is to learn from them first hand and then share our learning with anyone willing to read about them.

Another reason to visit the pioneers in their natural habitat is to speak directly with a range of current and former employees. In doing so, we are able to see before we believe.

It gives us the opportunity to write honest, real and balanced stories about these pioneers. (For example, check out our stories about Google, FAVI and Semco.)

It also prevents us from blindly copy-pasting inspirational stories that might have been written about these pioneers earlier (sometimes decades ago) but which, now, turn out to be myths or urban legends.

Lessons

So, what should we learn from these exposed mirages?

We should be aware that advertising workplaces as progressive will become a marketing tool to recruit talent to mediocre organizations.

Advertising workplaces as progressive will become a marketing tool to recruit talent to mediocre organizations. We must check if companies making these claims actually walk the talk. We must separate real from fake.
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This makes it even more important to check if companies making these claims actually walk the talk. We must separate real from fake.

And with social media dominating society, this is now more important than ever.

Written by Joost Minnaar
Joost Minnaar
Co-founder Corporate Rebels. My daily focus is on research, writing, and anything else related to making work more fun.
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