Google Ventures may have unintentionally disrupted the practice of psychotherapy.
In a recent post on Medium, Daniel Burka, member of a six-member design team at Google Ventures, wrote about "anxiety parties"--a professional development process rooted in gnawing self-doubt. Burka and his colleagues dreamed up the parties as a way for a leaderless unit of comparably experienced professionals to get performance feedback. They had toyed with conducting traditional peer reviews, he writes, but "what the heck would we critique about each other?"
Burka and his colleagues decided they didn't need to answer the question "How am I doing?," so much as the question "Do I suck as much as I suspect I might?" Now twice a year the six gather to air their individual insecurities: Am I too much of a lone wolf? Am I spending too much time at networking events at the expense of other priorities? The rest of the team ranks each concern from zero ("It never even occurred to me that this was an issue") to five ("I strongly believe you need to improve in this area.")
Anxiety parties are no substitute for traditional reviews (though those are under fire). But they provide a far more valuable service: psychic dragon-slaying. A performance review that comprises line after uninterrupted line of "Exceeds expectations" is gratifying but only proves that your supervisor hasn't copped to what's wrong with you. The review session itself, like most interactions within hierarchies, is a game-face-on, best-foot-forward affair.
At anxiety parties, by contrast, you walk in with your Dorian Gray's portrait under your arm and hang it on the wall. "I'm afraid that sometimes I say things that don't make any sense because I don't understand the subject." "I worry that everyone noticed that twice this month I've fallen asleep at my desk and knocked over my monitor when I my head fell forward." "I think I may have B.O."
People always talk about the things that keep them up at night. These are the things that make their intestinal tracts seize up. Your colleagues can either assuage your pain ("I don't notice if you say something stupid because I'm too preoccupied thinking what I can say next that sounds smart") or confirm your fears ("The pizza place on Altamont Street uses less garlic"). The latter may hurt to hear. But it's always better to know.
Anxiety parties could be usefully adapted for project management as well. Kickoff and status meetings try to elicit potential risks and challenges, but that approach is too cold-blooded to stanch pervasive unease. New research suggests that for many people--so-called "defensive pessimists"--"contemplating the worst possible outcome of an act actually improves performance, because anxiety translates to action." Consequently, gathering every so often in a break room or bar to prod team members' psychic sore teeth with the communal tongue could render both relief and motivation: "All the math is wrong. People die." Or "Our competitor lands Jennifer Lawrence as spokesperson for their new product. We end up with Bill Cosby."
Outside the workplace, the practice could be an inexpensive alternative or complement to traditional psychotherapy. Sure, psychiatrists can help the anxiety-riddled in ways laypeople can't. But getting vulnerable in front of friends or family members who--unlike professionals--will candidly express how your suckiness affects them may have a purgative effect. "I worry that I occasionally drool and that I instinctively voice every nasty, critical thought that pops into my mind and that people are going out to dinner and not inviting me." Then everyone else shares his or her own version. Finally everyone hugs and forgives one another and walks away feeling personally redeemed and slightly appalled by the screwed-up people in their lives.