Turning Heel 😈

As proven by Kraken’s leadership manifesto and other recent leadership dramas, it’s now cool to be a total jerk even if it makes you insufferable. You’ll still get plaudits anyway. From somebody.

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“Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, shown during his ’90s heel turn, appears to be a Big Tech archetype right now.

I was out of town when I heard about the Kraken culture manifesto, and whoo boy, is it a mess.

The crypto exchange, in recent weeks, has basically told its employees (and anyone interested in working for them) that they have to accept its harsh cultural standards, including its libertarian philosophy and commitment to a “diversity of thought”—or get shown the door.

“Not everyone needs to personally hold these beliefs to enlist as a Krakenite but these beliefs are a core component of our culture,” an edited version of the document, published on Notion, states. “You will be exposed to them regularly, and expected to instill them in your decision making at work.”

At a time when many workplaces are going the opposite direction, preferring a more social-activist approach (at least publicly, nothing to be said about political donations), it feels like a regression of sorts.

This has basically exposed the company’s CEO, Jesse Powell, to heavy criticism in the media, most notably a New York Times investigation that highlighted some questionable approaches to running a business. But it has also given him a chance to bolster his culture warrior bonafides, as highlighted by the fact that he made an appearance on Fox Business recently. In a way, it seems like even though he lost a mainstream lane of respect, he gained another that plays into his business interests.

As Elizabeth Spiers put it in a recent opinion column for the Times, Powell seems to be using his company as an ideological Petri dish because he controls it.

“So, no, Mr. Powell’s toxic behavior is not rooted in his libertarianism or his commitment to diversity of thought; it’s simply an outgrowth of his narcissism, which has allowed him to turn the company he runs into an ideological vanity project,” she wrote.


That is a distinct difference from, say, what happened with Basecamp a year ago, but in a way, it seems like a distilled version of the same instinct. You work for us, so we need to put our foot down and set limits, even if those limits don’t make sense. Think Thomas Watson and IBM, but updated for a new, more divisive era of leadership.

Elon Musk is obviously the archetype of this, and some of his recent actions have been head-scratchers at best: Forcing his employees to go into the office probably won him some impressive headlines—a win if your goal is attention at all costs—but failing to account for the logistics of getting people to work in the office is the part of the story that will never get as much attention as the bold stance.

I think in a lot of ways, the reason we’re seeing leaders like Powell speaking up in this regressive way is because even bad leadership has a lane in our modern culture. Sure, it will earn you plaudits to be socially responsible, to do the Gravity Payments thing and raise your employees’ base salaries. But as people like Powell and Musk have shown, being a total jerk in the way you manage your leadership is an effective way to stand out, even if it means you’re impossible to deal with.

We’re in a world where there is an outlet, an ideological lane for basically everyone—even people who would otherwise be deemed too toxic in another culture. If you want to be turn heel, you’ll still get your opportunity to make your voice heard as long as you’re willing to play the character full-tilt. Hey, it worked for Hulk Hogan in the ’90s, right?

This was an archetype started in politics, but it’s spreading. Let’s hope it doesn’t get beyond big tech.

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Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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