Lizards, Snakes and Crocodiles: Reptilian Behavior and the Business Ecosystem

Perhaps it’s just one of the hazards of paying attention, but there’s been a real streak of crappy dude-bro behavior percolating through my twitter feed this week. Racism. Sexual Harassment. Violence. Sometimes a swirl of all three.  Each piece of it has taken one more bit of my hope for humanity.  But each one of them has two common elements- each situation involves a reptilian brain and presents a study in how an ecosystem handles a predator who’s gotten out of hand.

Don Sterling is a lizard. One of those scaly dry ones that creep around your lounge chair in Cancun and lurk at the opening of their nest by the hot tub. Your hard earned leisure time crosses paths with his alpha-lizard domain, and up until this weekend it was either avoid the hot tub altogether or accept that you were relaxing right on top of his lair.

Tom Preston-Warner is a snake. I’m not sure whether his wife was one by birth or if she just learned how to speak Parsel-tongue while trotting around in boots cobbled out of his molted skin. It doesn’t really matter. Github has snake-eggs in lurking in its pipes, poisonous ones that you might never actually see, but are hatching and thriving right where you wash your face and hands. According to urban legend, there might even be one in your toilet bowl right now. But who wants to jettison Github in their day-to-day life when it happens to be where it’s at? More specifically, can you even get your code out of there once it’s in?

Gurbaksh Chahal is a crocodile. Strictly speaking that’s also a lizard, but far more frightening, as it’s strong enough to kill people and housepets and slither away. There was TAPE on this motherfucker. Actual video tape of him actually beating the hell out of his girlfriend in an argument they both acknowledge happened. He’s had felony charges pending on him since August. But the board of Radium was paralyzed into doing nothing until this weekend, when they were evidently shocked  to discover that there an admitted crocodile in their midst and they fired him.

Here’s the kicker: We only know about these reptiles because one fluke or another caused a reversal in the food chain. For each one of these guys there are 100s, possibly even 1000s that we never see. Why do businesses abide reptiles? Because as with any food chain, disruption incurs chaos, especially when it comes from below.   A visual reminder of how rare this actually is can be seen here.  For those who don’t remember it, it’s the video of a lion pride being thwarted in eating a tiny antelope by, well, pretty much the entire inhabitants of a pond.

Barring nature tipping the scales over on itself, the question of whether forcibly  removing one of the predators from the pond will cause greater harm than good – financially, morally, or otherwise – is always weighing one  side of the scale heavier than we want to believe. In each one of these organizations, in addition to what is undoubtedly hundreds of bruised people, there are hundreds of employed people who don’t want to lose their jobs.

This weekend’s urging of the Clippers’ players to boycott or otherwise break with their contracts would have resulted in their being fired. There was no, “I won’t work for a lizard” clause in any of their contracts. The lizard only got evicted from underneath the spa because bigger predators – read the Clippers’ sponsors, inspired by the collective fury of the NBA’s players and fans – figured out his nest was a threat to their young. Even now, as impressed as we all are with Adam Silver, there are still murmurs about whether getting rid of Don Sterling was too big of a disruption to the ecosystem during the Clippers’ playoff season. There’s also no small amount of fear about whether the lizard will come back.

Mother nature abhors chaos, and so does any ecosystem, no matter how brutish. It will always act to protect the status quo, however it has to. Github’s complete nonpology as a result of their silly internal investigation is a prime example. And it’s awful. Julie Ann Horvath was by most accounts exactly the kind of woman you want working in an entrepreneurial environment, a follower of the “just make awesome stuff and gender doesn’t matter” philosophy that women in tech have been fed for decades.  I’m paraphrasing – It’s not just awful, it’s scary, and it was discussed here in eloquent detail here.  Even after all of that, though, who truly wants to see Github disappear? Can you gut an organization to its  foundation, which is what would most likely have to happen to truly clear out its evident cultural problems, and expect it to regenerate the way you want?

And then finally we come back to Mr. Chahal, as unrepentant a reptile possible, still threatening women (https://twitter.com/karaswisher in now-deleted tweets.), still blaming others for the fact that he got fired, (same convo, now deleted) and still gaslighting everything in a 20 ft radius of his slimy tail. How does business handle it when the predator at the head of the board is shameless as well as reptilian? You get what happened at Radium, where everyone was held in stasis as the public waited for what everyone knew was the right thing to be done . And again, like Don Sterling, it’s not 100% certain he’s really gone. It’s unclear whether Chahal still has a majority stake in the company, and whether he still stands to profit mightily if the business does recover from his firing and goes on to do an IPO.

So…it’s depressing. There will always be reptiles. There will always be unrepentent predators in the workplace. Maybe today shouldn’t be about wringing our hands but more about examining two things – the food chain itself and the brave men and women who fought against it in these three instances. The more we support the fighters – those who don’t go quietly and don’t accept the pecking order as it always has been- the more there will be. And the system will have no choice – no matter how long the arc- to change. So here is to them. And to us, the warm blooded mammals of the world.