Absurdly Driven usually looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Many CEOs think that rumblings of discontent from below are a good thing.
As long as they're from far enough down to be inaudible.
Yet last week Amazon endured a slightly different rumbling.
Tim Bray, its VP and Distinguished Engineer at Amazon Web Services, decided he'd had enough.
These things can happen, of course. In Bray's case, however, he didn't just quit formally and politely. He wrote a blog post that expressed his feelings in stark words.
He explained how vexed he'd been by Amazon's decision to fire activists seeking better working conditions for employees:
I'm sure it's a coincidence that every one of them is a person of color, a woman, or both. Right?
Covid-19 has made it even more imperative for those who still come to work and perform grueling tasks to be protected by their employers.
Many believe this hasn't happened at Amazon. Many believe that even before the virus entered our world, Amazon wasn't the most sensitive toward its employees' working conditions.
When the coronavirus arrived, it got much worse. Bray explained:
Official statements claimed every possible safety precaution was being taken. Then a worker organizing for better safety conditions was fired, and brutally insensitive remarks appeared in leaked executive meeting notes where the focus was on defending Amazon "talking points."
It's when a company's innards are bared that employees truly see who they're working for.
When Amazon's general counsel David Zapolsky was caught describing fired warehouse employee Christian Smalls as "not smart or articulate," it was a chilling exposition of something many had suspected.
When Zapolsky insisted his comments had simply been "personal and emotional," many must have wondered what sort of emotions coursed through these executives' bodies.
Bray said he tried to register his objections through appropriate channels. It was this part of blog post, however, that is the most important lesson for any company that wants to grow exponentially:
Amazon is exceptionally well-managed and has demonstrated great skill at spotting opportunities and building repeatable processes for exploiting them. It has a corresponding lack of vision about the human costs of the relentless growth and accumulation of wealth and power.
I asked Amazon what it thought of this assessment. The company declined to comment. Other Amazon executives, however, insisted Bray was completely mistaken.
Simultaneously, this headline emerged: "Revealed: Amazon told workers paid sick leave law doesn't cover warehouses."
At the heart of the issue, of course, is the laziness and entitlement of humanity. We now believe everything should be bought instantly and delivered with unseemly haste.
Still, we're entering a period where the human aspects of business, so often relegated as technology reinforces the idea everything is instant, will be ever more vital.
Recently, I wrote about the difference in human approach between current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and one of his predecessors, Bill Gates.
Gates was far more akin to Jeff Bezos: Drive relentlessly and conquer mercilessly.
Nadella, on the other hand, prioritized this:
As a first unit of scale, at the core of your business model, are you creating a surplus around you?
Amazon is increasingly creating a surplus of discontent.
Bray pointed to Amazon's biggest, most troubling truth. If you don't fully anticipate the effect of growth on your employees, you'll end up with high turnover and a reputation as a heartless place to work.
Or, as Bray described it, "a vein of toxicity running through the company culture."
Yes, you might be able to hire people in very bad times. But when things get a little better, they'll go elsewhere and you'll have to work three times as hard to replace them.
It won't be so easy to articulate your smarts then.