The Importance Of Optics

My COO Adam often gets anxious when I’m scheduled to speak at a conference, because I have a tendency to be very outspoken with my opinions. As anyone who has every gone to a conference can tell you, most conferences are pretty close-to-the-vest, with speakers not really saying all that much, very similar to how football coaches say very little in post-game press conferences. I like to think my style of being somewhat brash and irreverent is a breath of fresh air, but to him, it’s nothing but a headache.

This is an issue for him because as the owner of all of our business relationships, he sometimes has to deal with the fallout of someone who was turned off by something I said about them or the industry or what have you. I can’t help it; I’m a passionate guy. But I get it. He’s the one who has to clean up after me, and that is frustrating, particularly when the mess is totally and utterly avoidable.

Anyway, today there was a vaguely viral story going around about Martin Shkreli and how he raised prices on a necessary and ultimately life-saving medication by over 5,400% after purchasing the rights to distribute and market it.

Now, I’m far from a bio-tech expert and pretty much anything I say on the subject would be glib and ignorant, so I’ll punt and simply say that if the story is as cut-and-dry as the New York Times seems to think, then he’s a scumbag and that’s pretty much that. What’s more interesting to me is his Twitter, where he’s recently vacillated between a defensive and flippant series of responses and another, different series of severe conspicuous consumption, thereby doubling down on the public’s enmity.

There is certainly something to be said for the Internet rage washing machine: it’s a page-view driven world where outrage is stoked, aggregated, and provided with gasoline. A good example of this is the story of Pax Dickinson, the former CTO of Business Insider, who had a couple of out-of-context, yet patently offensive tweets buried in his history spiral into his public excoriation and even more public firing. The tweets in question for him were undoubtedly offensive, but the swiftness of the public response caused the narrative to get crucial things wrong, such as misunderstanding context and making perhaps unfair generalizations about him based on a thin-slice of evidence.

But it’s giving Martin way too much of a pass to chalk up his current problems on that. Even if we ignore that his Wikipedia page seems to indicate a history of ethical and legal problems or this Gawker article which lays out a history of SEC violations quite damningly, he doesn’t seem to realize that it’s his own arrogant, indifferent responses to legitimate criticism that is compounding the issue. If his motives were really as misconstrued as he would like us to believe, would he act the way he has, the equivalent of all of the former baseball players, cyclists, and track stars who have indignantly pounded the table declaring their steroid-related innocence, only to have to eat their words later? Probably not.

I firmly believe that you learn more about a leader and really, anyone by looking at how they handle themselves in times of crisis. Many do extremely well. I like to think that I do OK, with a personal growth area related to being more open, communicative, and seeking of help instead of just loading it onto my back. Martin here seems to be doing everything wrong, particularly the public-facing optics of the situation and those optics are incredibly important – even if he really is being portrayed unfairly, no one would ever know because no one likes to defend an asshole.

But defend him they will – his investors, his PR people, everything, all over a mess that could have been handled much better every step of the way. That’s probably how Adam feels whenever I run my mouth and piss someone off at a conference.

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