Hey white dudes. I see you’re pretty worked up. Non-white dude here to explain.
When you’re white, and you’re male, technology is pretty accessible. And here’s why. You can open up a newspaper or a tech blog or whatever, and many of the major important people in the photos staring back at you basically look like you. And that’s nice, because you can be reassured that someone with your background and origins has a place in technology.
If you’re not male, or not white, you have to look a bit harder. Sometimes a lot harder, indeed, to find people who both look like you and are doing what you want to be doing professionally.
Now, you’ll give me an argument that looks just shouldn’t matter. That we should look at people’s minds and ideas, not their skin color, in evaluating their contributions.
And while I’m sure such an ideal feels reassuring – it’s bunk in this context.
Diversity of “race” is really a proxy for diversity of background, experience and origins. For maximizing the varieties of life story represented.
It’s useful to do this because diversity of experience leads to diversity of solutions. Diversity also breeds further diversity, as people with wildly different backgrounds feel more welcome into the fold.
So when we see people helping to lead a community, and some of those people aren’t like the majority, that’s encouraging. It says that even though a given person is “different” from the norm, they are welcome, they may be successful.
Star Trek is lauded for this reason. Actor Nichelle Nichols was thinking of leaving the show. None other than Dr. Martin Luther King implored her to remain – he believed a black professional woman on television would be a crucial role model for young people. (In her childhood, Whoopi Goldberg is said to have screamed, “Hey Mom! Look! There’s a black woman on the TV and she ain’t no maid!”)
And you may argue, well, why should diversity matter? Let some people do some stuff and other people do others. And I’ll tell you that position, on top of being lazy, opens us up to many missed opportunities. In technology, we want as many different sorts of humans as possible all working on our hard problems. If STEM is a country club for white guys, that leaves out a huge chunk of the population who might otherwise make great contributions.
One last thing. When you say stuff like “Wull, shucks, what were they supposed to do? Find a token [non-white-male] to fill the spot?” you make it sound like you don’t believe there are any people but white guys with useful things to say on the subject of the conference. Careful with that.
Comedian Louis CK had the bad luck to book a New York comedy show on the same night that a hurricane is bearing down on the east coast.
I like this guy a lot – his gutsy, $5 DRM-free download of his show at Beacon Theatre was a textbook example of how to build and grow a long-term relationship with a 21st-century fanbase while still getting paid. So I’m not surprised by how he’s handling this situation (all bold emphasis mine).
Dear New York ticket holding folks….
Okay. I thought about this very carefully and I really started to worry about making 4300 people come into midtown manhattan on Sunday night, which is just when the stormatron 5000 is supposed to crush our empire. new york state has ordered the sutdown of all mass transit (subways, buses and commuter trains) as of 7pm Sunday night.
Before getting into the nitty gritty of his announcement, CK takes a moment to get everyone on the same page. There’s an important reason he’s asking for your attention. There’s a reason he’s about to give you some bad news. Good communication makes no assumptions about the audience’s facts.
Deliver the Bad News
I know that a lot of people are excited to come and they are fine with taking the chance but I really don’t want a pole to smash your face in because you saw some comedy.
So i asked the City Center (where the shows are supposed to happen) if we could find another date for Sunday’s shows and they gave me March 2nd. The City Center, being really cool, has agreed to let us do the shows on that night and your tickets that you now hold will be honored on that night. the same seat, same everything. If you can’t come on that night, we will either do another show soon after that, or find another show for you in the area in the future. Or you still have the option to get a full refund for your ticket. If you already asked for a refund, we can reinstate your ticket if you want to go to one of those shows.
Accept Responsibility, Acknowledge Frustration
Listen. I know that probably it’s going to be a starry clear night and the trains are going to be just gliding up and down the traks and a baby zebra is going to whinny as he trots by the City Center on a night that is going to break records for being placid and perfect for a night of comedy. And I’m going to feel like an asshole. And I know that some people had their plans set and are going to be pissed off at me. I know. but I also know that some of you are struggling with whether to come in or miss the show and this is the closest I can get to a solution. You don’t have to take a chance and you don’t have to miss the show. Just come see me in a few months.
CK spends this paragraph acknowledging all the frustration his fans might feel as a result of his decision. He also owns that it’s his call to err on the side of caution. His starry clear night imagery leaves him naked here – he hasn’t chosen to pretend that his hand has been forced by terrible circumstances beyond his control. If he’s wrong, he knows he’s the asshole – no one else.
With this openness, it’s very easy to continue trusting and liking the guy. It sucks you can’t have the night you were planning on, but it’s hard to begrudge Louis for trying his best to do the right thing.
Invite Further Discussion
If it’s any consolation, I’m eating a pretty staggering fee for cancelling the show. But I can take it. What I can’t take is the thought that there’s a CHANCE 4300 people will be in danger trying to get home from my stupid show.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what you want to do, and ask any question you have.
So that’s that. Cancelled. Rescheduled. Please forgive me. Please be safe.
Your dumb friend
Louis acknowledges the personal hardship that this situation creates for him but crucially does not seek pity for it. He “can take it.” Mentioning the cancel fee isn’t whining or group therapy – it’s Louis pointing out that this isn’t fun for him, either. Knowing his inconvenience is even greater than your own further builds trust, but only because it isn’t a pity party.
One of the most frustrating customer service situations is feeling like your voice isn’t being heard. Too many corporate bureaucracies congeal their worlds in “policy,” ignoring customers with unique cases. Louis CK wants you to feel comfortable talking back. The invitation to ask any questions seals this as a great moment in customer service. The sincerity and humility of his letter would ring hollow if he was indifferent to pushback from the fans affected by the decision.
It’s interesting to live in a world where a comedian is schooling other businesses on how to deliver great customer service. People with better understandings of the psychology of Louis’s profession can probably explain what mental muscles he’s built that make this style of authentic communication come so naturally. But whatever the source, Louis CK believes – rightly – that his success is tied to how much his fans like, trust and respect him. Even though it’s expensive in the short-term, he knows that the cancellation fee for the show is a tiny pittance for the long-term health of his fan relationships.