There’s a new epidemic in the business world. Ground zero appears to be Silicon Valley, but it’s spreading fast. Young male executives seem to be particularly susceptible to its devastating effects, but at this stage, it’s not clear if anyone is immune.
Since the cause of the outbreak is unknown, experts have named it after its pathology: PDRS, or Public Displays of Remarkable Stupidity. While nobody knows how people contract PDRS or how contagious it is, one thing is certain: the careers of those it attacks rarely recover.
The most recent high-profile victim is former PayPal executive Rakesh Agrawal, who suffered a terrible bout of PDRS late last Friday night. Less than two months after joining PayPal as director of strategy, Agrawal unleashed a Twitter tirade that began at 1 a.m. and went on for several hours.
Among the mostly incoherent tweets were a few aimed at the company’s VP of Communications, Christina Smedley, who Agrawal called a “useless middle manager” and a “piece of” something that rhymes with twit (hat-tip to re/code’s always witty Ina Fried).
Apparently unaware that he’d been infected with PDRS, Agrawal later blamed the epic rant on the Twitter interface of a new Android phone and implied that a DM (direct message) malfunction was the culprit, tweeting “Those messages were meant for a colleague.”
I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the “colleague” got the message, loud and clear. And so did Agrawal’s bosses, who, on PayPal’s official Twitter account, posted “Rakesh Agrawal is no longer with the company. Treat everyone with respect. No excuses. PayPal has zero tolerance.”
Not to be outdone and apparently still under the insidious influence of the dreaded PDRS, Agrawal tweeted that, while his brief stint at PayPal had indeed come to an untimely end, that was by choice because he had actually resigned before the whole sordid affair began.
To prove it, he posted a resignation letter to his boss, Stan Chudnovsky, and PayPal president David Marcus, wherein he wished them luck, welcomed them to invest in his new company, and, in case that wasn’t arrogant enough, offered them jobs, saying, “if you want to change the world, I would love to have you on my team.” Oh yes he did.
I could be wrong, but PRDS certainly seems to bear striking similarities to a disease that ran rampant across corporate America years ago called Train Wreck Syndrome. TWS, as it was also known, claimed the jobs of dozens of top executives, including several I knew personally. It was sad to watch them self-destruct that way – struck down in the prime of their careers. Tragic.
In any case, current and aspiring managers, executives, and business leaders – as well as anyone who is gainfully employed and would like to stay that way – can avoid being infected with PDRS by following these recommendations:
1. Don’t drink and tweet, at least until somebody comes up with a Breathalyzer app that disables your phone if you’re over the limit. And don’t tweet late at night, either. Better yet, don’t tweet at all. I mean, what’s the point? Really.
2. If you don’t have anything nice to say, say it face-to-face and in private. Just don’t put it in writing. I hear that L. A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling is working with Alec Baldwin and Mel Gibson on a PSA cautioning folks not to do it over the phone, either. Good advice.
3. When you do screw up – as you no doubt will – own it and move on. Don’t make ludicrous excuses that sound like you’re some idiot kid claiming the dog ate your homework. Just apologize and lay low for a while.
4. Respect the tech. Not that I'm buying the dopey “new phone” story, but enough of us – myself included – have come close to self-destruction by “reply all” to warrant a little paranoid caution. If you have to, put a warning sticker on all your devices.
5. Try to remember what it means to be professional. If you can’t, then go down to the worst neighborhood you can find and have a nice little chat with a homeless person. Because that’s what you’re going to be if you don’t get your act together.
One more thing. In all seriousness, don’t post anything anywhere online that you wouldn’t want showing up in a Google search for the rest of your life or until the end of time, whichever comes first. Remember, social media is like a Mike Tyson tattoo you can never ever get off your face. The Internet is forever.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, executive coach, columnist, and former senior executive. He runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting where he advises executives and business leaders on anything and everything. Contact Tobak.