Danger of Questions

I first had this thought when speaking at an online conference.

I gave my speech, said my words about business.

I had a plane to catch, not much time to listen to other speakers, was packing in the background, then--

"Asking questions can ruin someone's life."

I paused mid-pack and sat down stiff. It was Chris, talking about why procedures exist. He was talking about how when he was a student doing research studies with human subjects, even if they were just psychology studies, even if it was just asking people questions, he'd need to get permission from the ethics board. He cited cases like the Stanford prison experiment and the Unibomber as examples of people being hurt from psychology experiments.

Experiments like asking someone questions.

Asking a question.


I think performance reviews, regardless of the intention, are a set of questions that can damage someone psychologically, just like these experiments Chris had to get permission to conduct.

You show up to go get yourself reviewed and there is an innate feeling of not being as good as the person reviewing you, enforced, a feeling that you can not stand on your own.

And this whole culture of reviewing others permeates the way managers and colleagues behave and the whole company-- toxic.

I've felt it. I've seen it happen to friends, over and over and over.

One of my friends got a job at Company A, and she was so excited. She kept telling me how great it all was. And the company seemed glad to have recruited her. But then reviews and assessments came rolling in, and they told her she was missing the mark. She innately did not question it, it upset her, she felt a strong initial urge to stay and do better. But I saw it for what it was. She was actually doing great work, but they were afraid she'd leave for better work and the manager didn't like her acting like she didn't need them and they knew that'd work to control her.

Another got a contract at Company B. At first all seemed great. He was taken around and shown the fancy features of the office and told great engineers work there and maybe he'd like to work there full time. And the very next day, his supervisor started questioning his basic programming abilities. And then the day after, congratulated him on a fix. Then threatened to pull the project out from under him. This constant attitude of being reviewed, of having to submit, of not knowing what's best for oneself, of your superior being superior to you regardless of their experience, and having that very torment pull you in and make you not want to leave.

It's trauma bonding, and I've talked about the phenomena before.

And I question whether this behavior by management would've been approved by Chris' ethics committee.


San Diego sunshine is particularly bright and beautiful. I was out to coffee with a fellow entrepreneur, and we took a moment to simply sit and enjoy it in silence for a bit.

"You know," she said, looking over at me, "I've read your tweets about full time life and they just seem so strange, so nonsensical."

I glanced at her, sun blinding my eyes slightly in a warm way.

"Freedom, she continued, "Freedom is why I do this. I've been an entreprenuer since graduating college. The freedom it gets you is so worth it."

Reflecting on a Thank You Note

Pretty Computers