May 6 2004

TDC (Thinly Disguised Contempt)

As I got out of my car at home after dinner last night, my wife Amy was snickering. “My jedi mind trick worked – I got those guys to back up their car by thinking you will back up your car.”

To get to our house in the mountains, you have to drive through a state park and up a narrow dirt road wide enough for one car. Our friends that run the state park have kindly put up a sign that says “Only authorized vehicles past this point” at the beginning of the one lane road. Daily, there are a number of people that either can’t read, ignore the sign, or decide they are in an authorized vehicle. At the end of the road, they reach what we hope is an unpenetrable gate (unless you know the magic code), turn around, and have to retrace their steps. It’s exactly in the middle of this route when we inevitably reach these morons.

During this whole escapade (which added about five minutes to my otherwise idyllic drive home), I was thinking to myself “what idiots, can’t they read the sign, they will back up now”.

As Amy is snickering, I’m grousing about these annoying people, the lousy drivers on 93 on our way home, and the fact that people just don’t get the economics of offshoring.

“What was that phrase we used to use at Feld Technologies – Thinly Disguised Contempt?” says my tranquil wife.

This shuts me up quickly. While running my first company (aptly and very creatively named Feld Technologies – after my father), I attended the inaugural year(s) of the Birthing of Giants program. I roomed with a great guy named Alan Trefler, who at the time was running a fast growing private company called Pegasystems (PEGA). Late one night, Alan started telling me about TDC (Thinly Disguised Contempt). At Pegasystems, they’d decided that respect for the customer was one of their highest values. Consequently, they created the notion of TDC – basically thinking or saying something negative about a customer. If I remember correctly (and I probably don’t) acts of the management team generated a $1,000 fine, which went to pay for some joint leadership event in the future.

When I got back to my office after the Birthing of Giants weekend, TDC was echoing in my mind. We were a software consulting company at a time when creating working custom PC database applications for businesses was hard (I mean really hard – remember dbase II and Novell Netware 2.0a)? Our clients were usually great, but it always hard to be on the other end of the phone telling someone for the 17th time “Ok, type f colon backslash public” as you got ready to go through yet another troubleshooting session over the phone (since no businesses had Internet connections back then (I guess Al Gore hadn’t created it yet – is that TDC or sarcasm?) and the Carbon Copy remote control software crashed more often then it was worth using).

We decided Alan was right and TDC is bad. TDC is toxic. It lingers. It spills out over everything. Your friends and colleagues notice, but don’t really understand, as you send them mixed signals. TDC is dangerous – it gets inside, around, and all over everything.

Be blunt. If you don’t like something, say it. If someone does something stupid, say it. If stuff needs to change, say it.

Stomp out TDC.