A Cynical Take on “Why I left [newsworthy company]?” Letters

These “why I left *” letters are legion.  Greg Smith’s resignation letter from Goldman Sachs (as published in the New York Times) , has touched a nerve, particularly as too-big-to-fail money institutions have been fingered as significant factors in the Great Recession.  While this is widely acknowledged, they have paid no price and have been the beneficiaries of government bailouts.  Letters such as Smith’s may connect with both specifically-informed and low-information publics, but what impact do such letters have besides confirming what many already expect?

Paris - Musée du Louvre - Captifs

There have been letters about institutions and individuals ‘losing their way’ since forever.  The internet age has only increased their virality and velocity.  Letters (in email, webpage, or blog-post form) in the internet era have focused on Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.   (A search for “resign” on Longform and Longreads was not fruitful).  There have been similar screeds against both political parties.  Even end-users and consumers have chimed in as to why they have abandoned once-cherished products and services.

The letters all contain a familiar narrative roughly analogous to “the hero’s journey”, with far less drama.  The writer establishes himself as a person, justifies his authority to comment on the subject, and then frames his initial perception of the institution.  Sometimes the person changes and their goals are no longer in alignment with their organization.  More often than not, the person realizes that either they were wrong all along, or that something had changed.

He explains his interpretation of the culture, the tradition, mores, and values.  She discusses the small-p politics, transactions, morals, and ethics.  They delve into the incentives, typically pointing out how rewards have distorted performance.

There may or may not be a period where the author attempts to right the ship, with a cautionary tale as to how they were marginalized , ignored, or outright punished for their intransigence from “the way things work around here”.

There is almost usually a tipping point, where the writer can no longer endure the travesty of their sullied dreams.  The coda is a wish that somehow the institution will grasp its true purpose and even its keel, with the admission that it is not very likely.

Although the one-day impact to Goldman Sachs has been claimed to be $2 billion dollars of market capitalization, I sincerely doubt there will be any residual effect.  One person leaving is an outlier; many people leaving is a trend.  The sum of small, individual travesties you witness in your Facebook feed or Twitter timeline of disgruntled employees and disappointed customers is far more dangerous to your bottom line.   Do canaries travel in flocks?