Airbnb CEO on How to Share Bad News 

5. General

Airbnb CEO on How to Share Bad News 

Welcome to the fifty-seventh edition of ‘3-2-1 by Story Rules‘.

A newsletter recommending good examples of storytelling across:

  • 3 tweets
  • 2 articles, and
  • 1 long-form content piece

𝕏 3 Tweets of the week

Source: X

Good to see the divergence between GDP growth and carbon emissions. Interestingly, when Siddharth had asked on Twitter, most of the audience had assumed that emissions are rising faster than GDP.

Source: X

Is it good from a global security point of view for China to have such dominance on this critical sector?

Source: X

Not a good sign, right? Wonder why R&D Spend is so low. Where is the money going? I’m guessing the companies aren’t overspending on employees… Are the shareholders taking away too much of the value through dividends and buybacks or is it going into reserves?

📄 2 Articles of the week

a. ‘Europe’s real tourist trap’ By Janan Ganesh (Financial Times)

Ganesh is brutal in this short piece on the reducing geopolitical significance of Europe.

Europe has a lack of major tech companies, a reduced share of world output and, as protectionism spreads, no hope of matching American or Chinese largesse on domestic industries. In a trading world, Europe had one superpower, the “Brussels effect”, by which EU regulations became the de facto global standard. The fragmentation of trade could deprive Europe of even that vote on the shape of the future.

He claims, a bit cheekily, that one reason why Europe does not realise its falling importance is because it’s still the world’s premier tourist destination. All that attention must be going to the head?

Because Europe commands the interest of the world without trying, it struggles to understand how marginal it has become, and to respond. It can count on levels of attention that other places must fight for. It can reap a level of income from visitors that is near-unique in the rich world. In 2019, the last pre-Covid year, tourism was 12 per cent of GDP in Spain, 8 in Portugal and 7 in Greece. No western nation outside Europe, save New Zealand, got to 3 per cent. Nor did Japan or (despite an airport that could be a destination itself) Singapore.

The analogy is brutal:

The danger is that Europe becomes the geostrategic equivalent of a person too beautiful to ever need do or say anything interesting. It can be flattered into not noticing that the century is being authored elsewhere.

b. ‘Lightbulb Moment’ by Nitesh Jain

Pixar is arguably the best animation studio on the planet. Famously, it is not because of their technical chops, but because of their storytelling. As Nitesh quotes Pixar co-founder John Lasseter:

“I’ve done animation my whole life. That’s all I want to do. And it’s not about the technology, ’cause the technology these days could be so seductive, right? It’s about entertaining the audience with great stories and great characters. And I just fall in love with these characters”. – John Lasseter, Pixar co-founder in a 2007 interview

My favourite Pixar movie is ‘Inside Out’ (am dying to see the sequel, which is in theatres now). I loved how Nitesh framed that movie as one that was essentially made for adults, but happens to appeal to kids too:

Inside Out (2015) does an inversion of a classic trope – normally, Pixar movies are made for kids but with enough jokes and references thrown in that the adults stay engaged too. I feel like Inside Out does the opposite – it is a film about introspection, self-awareness and mental health that has been made accessible for kids to enjoy too, even if the message creeps up on them when they’re a little older.

Bonus: View this fabulous video where Steve Jobs (a major investor in Pixar) breaks down the reason for Pixar’s success in the movies. I show this clip in almost all my workshops on the power of narrative over visual wizardry.

🎧 1 long-form listen of the week

a. ‘A company is not a family’ with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky on Rethinking with Adam Grant

In this enlightening conversation, Adam Grant and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky discuss the importance of trust, clear communication, and empathy.

Airbnb’s real magic was not the co-hosting idea or their app, but how they designed a system of trust:

Brian Chesky: You know, I think ultimately what we designed was a system of trust to allow, you know, we didn’t invent the idea of a house. We didn’t invent the idea of staying inside of a house. Like this is not a new idea, but we designed the first system of this scale to allow people from every country nearly in the world to live together for the first time.

Adam admires Brian’s famous layoff letter during the pandemic (May 2020):

Adam Grant:… a crisis is a test of leadership and culture, and you wrote what I thought was the single best layoff note.

And I was just blown away by the caring compassion you showed in those notes. And then in the efforts that you made to help people find jobs that you had to let go of. Can you tell the story of when did you realize that you’re gonna have to do layoffs? And then what went through your head as you were putting together that communication?

Brian first takes the audience back to those traumatic initial weeks:

Brian Chesky: Airbnb’s like a very global company, and we had a business in China late January and now February we see our Chinese business drop 80%. The business drops like 8%, like it’s a crisis, right? A company dropping 80% in a matter of weeks is like you’re in an 18-wheeler on a highway and you slam on the brakes, and then we see that it spreads to Japan. We can literally see the virus.

Heeding advice from another CEO, Brian decided to make a drastic one-time cut to the workforce instead of multiple separate ones

Brian Chesky: One CEO told me, “At some point in your life, you’re gonna have to do a layoff every CEO does. And if you do, you have to move quickly and you have to cut deep enough and cut once.” And so I always remember that. And a lot of CEOs, they don’t cut deep enough and so then they create a series of layoffs and there’s never any closure.

And I think it creates a permanent malaise and fear inside the company. So I said, okay, we’re gonna actually cut maybe even a little deeper than is intuitive, but I’d rather cut a little deeper and give people more severance and more time, and I don’t want people in purgatory. I went through all 2000 names myself, of people that were laid off.

To write his letter, Brian decided to take an unusual approach – write from his heart:

Brian Chesky: I basically like looked at a bunch of people who’d done layoff letters, and I noticed something about the way companies lay people off. It’s pretty inhumane. It seems like a human being didn’t write it. It feels like a, like a, like an AI prompt or something.

Adam Grant: Yeah only before there was AI.
Brian Chesky: Yeah. AI is more compassionate than most of these layoff letters, and I think what ends up happening is that the CEOs get very risk averse. They’re not vulnerable, they’re afraid to say the wrong thing. They don’t actually speak from the heart. The lawyers and the HR people like, and everyone rounds the edges off them. And I said, instead of that, I’m just gonna write from the heart.

Brian and his team made sure that they did everything in their capacity to soften the blow for the employees who were let go:

Brian Chesky: …what they mostly wanted was me to be present as a leader and I brought them on the journey. And by the time we did do the layoff, I explained exactly why we were doing it.

We gave people a year of healthcare. One of our team members had a brilliant idea. I said, what if we created like an outplacement agency inside the company where we had recruiters work on placing employees at other companies. Then I started calling my fellow CEOs who were doing well, companies that weren’t in travel, and I basically said, “Hey, we have like great people.” And then we created this thing called Alumni Directory, where we allowed employees to opt in to basically allowing recruiters to reach out to them for other companies.

That’s all from this week’s edition.

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

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