Lab Rats
New York Times bestselling author Dan Lyons exposes how the "new oligarchs" of Silicon Valley have turned technology into a tool for oppressing workers in this "passionate" (Kirkus) and "darkly funny" (Publishers Weekly) examination of workplace culture.At a time of soaring corporate profits and plenty of HR lip service about "wellness," millions of workers--in virtually every industry--are deeply unhappy. Why did work become so miserable? Who is responsible? And does any company have a model for doing it right?For two years, Lyons ventured in search of answers. From the innovation-crazed headquarters of the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, to a cult-like "Holocracy" workshop in San Francisco, and to corporate trainers who specialize in ... Legos, Lyons immersed himself in the often half-baked and frequently lucrative world of what passes for management science today. He shows how new tools, workplace practices, and business models championed by tech's empathy-impaired power brokers have shattered the social contract that once existed between companies and their employees. These dystopian beliefs--often masked by pithy slogans like "We're a Team, Not a Family"--have dire consequences: millions of workers who are subject to constant change, dehumanizing technologies--even health risks. A few companies, however, get it right. With Lab Rats, Lyons makes a passionate plea for business leaders to understand this dangerous transformation, showing how profit and happy employees can indeed coexist.

Lab Rats Details

TitleLab Rats
Author
ReleaseOct 23rd, 2018
PublisherHachette Books
ISBN-139780316561860
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Business, Management, Science, Technology, Psychology

Lab Rats Review

  • Sharon
    January 1, 1970
    This is a more important business book than most people realize. In its pages, Dan Lyons take apart the conventional wisdom of Milton Friedman's "burn out and churn out" style of shareholder-based business and shows why the model is completely non-sustainable.If you've wondered why you're feeling less valued at work, it's because you are. When human beings are treated like copy paper (human "resources"), it's easy to pretend we don't matter. Yet, we provide the work that turns the wheels of busi This is a more important business book than most people realize. In its pages, Dan Lyons take apart the conventional wisdom of Milton Friedman's "burn out and churn out" style of shareholder-based business and shows why the model is completely non-sustainable.If you've wondered why you're feeling less valued at work, it's because you are. When human beings are treated like copy paper (human "resources"), it's easy to pretend we don't matter. Yet, we provide the work that turns the wheels of business and, in turn, profits to shareholders.The book's not all bad news; Lyons also profiles some businesses, including some venture capitalists, who are more interested in stakeholders than shareholders and, as a result, setting Friedman's style on its ear. Businesses based on a social enterprise model do well for themselves, their employees and, ultimately, their shareholders.This is all accomplished in a lively, entertaining and, at times, maddening little book that will open your eyes and make you rethink how you treat your staff. It's past time for HR to become Personnel again ... focused on treating each employee as a person instead of a "resource," and Lyons shows the way
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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    What use is outrage?Outrage is motivating. It can be unifying. It can even be inspiring. With a little discipline, it can power you enough to produce a first draft of a book. After the first draft, the outrage must be controlled, limited, and shaped if you wish to address anyone other than people you agree with already, or motivate people to participate in a constructive response.This book has an outrage issues.It disappointed me because the things that the author is outraged about are, well, ou What use is outrage?Outrage is motivating. It can be unifying. It can even be inspiring. With a little discipline, it can power you enough to produce a first draft of a book. After the first draft, the outrage must be controlled, limited, and shaped if you wish to address anyone other than people you agree with already, or motivate people to participate in a constructive response.This book has an outrage issues.It disappointed me because the things that the author is outraged about are, well, outrageous. Some examples: Hard-won improvements to the quality of life of the average person (like health insurance, pensions, and weekends), wrestled from the clutches of the greedy rich a generation or two ago at the cost of life and freedom for many, are now being surrendered back to same with hardly a murmur. Old school corporations who tried (at least sometimes) to treat employees like family are being driven out of business by a culture that glorifies exploiting people (“we're a team, not a family”) before throwing them aside. Work-caused nervous breakdowns and suicides barely raise an eyebrow. Tech companies (using perfectly legal methods) avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes to the jurisdictions tending the infrastructure that helps them profit. It is a (very small) consolation that many of the people who benefit most from this newly-enhanced war of all against all are themselves too insecure about their own futures to twirl the pointy ends of their villainous mustaches and cackle maniacally nearly as often as they might like. This fear – that you and your company will be soon under the wheel of the next juggernaut of “creative disruption” – drove (and continues to drive) the creation of a large assortment of lunatic management theories, each promising to put you in the best position to deal with the scary mysterious future. Like many forms of spectacular idiocy, many of these lunatic management theories started off in the distant past as a method that worked somewhere, under some particular set of circumstances. However, after the method is filtered through a score of mass-market paperbacks, management gurus, and desperately oleaginous management consultants, whatever resemblance the original idea had to sanity has been completely bleached out. The author reserves an especially red-hot level of loathing for these vendors of snake-oil management theories, their Powerpoint presentations, and their particular ability to inspire anxiety in the mid- and low-level corporate employees whose ability to stay barely ahead of massive student loan and mortgage debt often hinges on their capacity for faking enthusiasm for absurd theory-generated tasks. The book begins with the author taking a red-hot poker (figuratively speaking) to some poor woman who agreed to meet him to demonstrate (apparently free of charge) how asking groups of educated grown-ups to make a duck out of Legos will somehow improve corporate culture. Further examples come at a furious pace throughout the book.To repeat, all of the above is worthy of outrage. However, if your outrage causes you to write a book full of outrage (plus occasional sarcasm), then you have failed as a writer, because those whose minds you are attempting to change will use your emotional in-print outbursts as evidence of unreliability. You will seen to be yet another screamer in an age of screaming, and will be disregarded by many people who may otherwise be sympathetic to your argument. Have confidence in your readers: they can recognize idiocy and injustice when plainly presented.As a result, although I knew the ideas in this book were worthy of attention, I frequently put it aside and it lingered a long time on my Goodreads “currently-reading” shelf as I enjoyed books, some on serious topics, written by authors who did not seem like they were shouting at me off the screen of my ebook reader. Part III of this book starts off unpromisingly, with yet another appearance of a conference full of “tech bros”, who are the author's favorite punching bag throughout the book. However, it takes a turn for the better about the time (Kindle location 2363) the following quotation appears: It turns out that a quiet movement has been taking shape, led by people who see how things have gone wrong and believe that business might be the solution. From there, the book quiets down and talks sense (starting about location 2415) about what people need from work (“Trust, pride, and camaraderie”) and how to get it (“You get the best work out of people when you treat them with respect”). From there on, the book is easier reading, because the people and ideas that appear are not worthy of ridicule, so the author can settle down (with occasional backsliding) to actually telling you interesting things that you don't know, like how companies can be profitable without driving its employees to the verge of suicide (or beyond).I received a free electronic advance review copy of this book via Netgalley and Hachette Books.
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  • Bob Varettoni
    January 1, 1970
    To be sure (a phrase that introduces many paragraphs in this book), I never expected Dan Lyons’ latest to be as good as “Disrupted” — which was based on first-person stories, and devastating humor and satire. This book is more of a research project, with hyperbolic claims made about the impact of certain blog posts, published opinion pieces and Powerpoint presentations. I think the truth is more gray, considering, for example, how even “best places to work” rankings are influenced by PR and pay- To be sure (a phrase that introduces many paragraphs in this book), I never expected Dan Lyons’ latest to be as good as “Disrupted” — which was based on first-person stories, and devastating humor and satire. This book is more of a research project, with hyperbolic claims made about the impact of certain blog posts, published opinion pieces and Powerpoint presentations. I think the truth is more gray, considering, for example, how even “best places to work” rankings are influenced by PR and pay-to-play considerations. I think Lyons is a wonderful writer and a thoughtful critic. In this book, he addresses important topics. It’s a worthwhile read — but, to be sure, it’s no “Disrupted” or “Options.”
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  • Greg
    January 1, 1970
    Dan Lyons is one of the more unlikely critics of Silicon Valley culture despite being a long time satirist, making his splash with his Fake Steve Jobs (FSJ) blog (and mediocre novelization). His irreverent portrayal of a smack-talking, faux new-age Steve, seems a bit short in retrospect. It was clever, candid and most of all funny, but never eclipsed the caricature of the on-the-spectrum, eccentric, once-hippie tech billionaire. In the end, in the cannon of Steve, Lyon helped lionize (yeah, you Dan Lyons is one of the more unlikely critics of Silicon Valley culture despite being a long time satirist, making his splash with his Fake Steve Jobs (FSJ) blog (and mediocre novelization). His irreverent portrayal of a smack-talking, faux new-age Steve, seems a bit short in retrospect. It was clever, candid and most of all funny, but never eclipsed the caricature of the on-the-spectrum, eccentric, once-hippie tech billionaire. In the end, in the cannon of Steve, Lyon helped lionize (yeah, you had to see that coming) Jobs, with the endless speculation of who FSJ real identity was.As a seasoned tech journalist, watching his own industry be cannibalized by tech giants, Lyons ended up regurgitating in the soliloquy, "if you cant' beat 'em, join 'em", and thus fully embraced the mantra when he took a tour of duty at Hubspot.What followed was his book, Disrupted, a highly cynical view of the lauded unicorn companies of the Silicon Valley, where ageism, sexism, and even old-fashioned systemic racism run amok. Lyons learned the brutal truth behind the smoke-and-mirrors act, where Hubspot succeeded behind banal new-age corpo-speak, armies of call-center drones, using the oldest sales techniques in the book. His experience struck a nerve, that perhaps our so-called unicorns weren't special, other than the ability fib that they were more than anything than a donkey with a paper cone, making an ass out everyone who for buying into such a shallow sham.This go around, Lyons drops entirely his satirical lens refocused to far serious more precision, with a deeply skeptical view of tech companies of all stripes, and argues that they are accelerating the wealth-income gap (Spoiler: they are), sowing the seeds of worker discontentment, destabilizing the economy and dehumanizing people by treating them as actual cogs in a machine.There are interviews from anonymous interviews, to people willing to go on the record about their personal stories in the churn of the new workplace. The cast is wide and of many backgrounds, be it newly minted fresh college grads suffering depression from being fired for not being a culture fit to the truly dystopian, workers who have to camp in freezing weather in England to save money while working for Amazon warehouses. The most poignant chapter is the damning of Amazon, who's piddly $15 raise still is insufficient, ending on the eerie Nick Hanauer interview about Jeff Bezos.“Hanauer, the billionaire-turned-activist, was at one time close to Bezos. I asked him if he had ever talked to his old friend about paying workers better and treating them more humanely. “I took a crack at getting him to care about it,” Hanauer said. Apparently, Bezos wasn’t persuaded. In recent years, “I have lost touch with Jeff,” Hanauer said. He was reluctant to say more.For years Hanauer has been trying to convince legislators to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, more than double the current minimum wage of $7.25. Even that $15 wage would not be enough to make things square, but it would at least be a start.“If the minimum wage had tracked the growth of productivity since 1968, it would now be $22,” Hanauer says. “If it tracked the top 1 percent, it would be $29.”“The reason to give back the money, he says, would be so that the one percent can save their own skins. As Hanauer sees it, the election of Donald Trump might be only the first step toward something much worse. “People were hurting, and they lashed out—by voting for the guy who was lashing out, too.”If we don’t shift wealth back toward workers and just keep carrying on the way we are now, Hanauer predicts we will end up in a real-life Mad Max movie: “If you don’t give it back, things are not going to get better. Oh, dude, we are in for a bumpy ride. This is going to get way worse before it gets better. I think the country is in trouble. The West is in trouble. We have institutionalized a set of dynamics which benefit the few and immiserate the many.“People are not going to get less pissed. People’s lives are going to get worse. People are going to be even more angry and more polarized. The talk will get even crazier. Plan on violence. Plan on it. People do stupid shit when they’re angry. It’s not going to be good. I think we’re going to have a lot of civil unrest. Hopefully we will avoid a civil war. The last time the country was in crisis like this was 1968. Remember that? We had hundreds of bombings. We had riots. Well, it’s been fifty years. We’re right on cycle.”It might sound alarmist or even silly out-of-context, but listening to NPR's Morning Edition with person-on-the-street-interviews, the idea of civil-conflict is often echoed by both the right-wing and left-wing alike. This isn't some lame "horseshoe theory" armchair analysis. Both sides blame each other for the problems, being divided on wedge issues instead of class issues.After so many books on my reading list, from Chris Hedge's America the Farewell Tour, Charlie LeDuff's "Sh*tshow: The Country's Collapsing and the ratings are great", Anand Giridharadas' "Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World" all in the past two months, there's one very loud reverbing echo: The rise of populism can clearly be laid at the feet of the fear or reality of being left behind. James Carville campaign strategist of Bill Clinton "once said "it's the economy, stupid". He's correct, and yet wildly-off-base, as our neoliberal economic platform ushered by Reaganomics was realized in the under the tech-happy hand of Clinton. The economy, stupid, is now the cross-to-bear with the Silicon Valley being the chief architect of its demise. The final chapters focus on companies bucking the trend and succeeding while doing so. There’s a bit too much faith in companies with social agendas but this view is supported by his end thesis. Lyons’ in the end doesn’t suggest an end to capitalism, (as the saying goes, capitalism is the worst system until you consider all the others) but an end to shareholder capitalism. It’s a mammoth ask but it is a salient point: maximizing short term gains for the quick buck isn’t the way to build the future. Most of all, the book is easily digestible for a dreary topic, and made me laugh out loud... which probably wasn’t intentional. /edit: so yeah, I work in tech as a developer and I'm under 40. I feel like that's worth a cent here.
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  • David Churbuck
    January 1, 1970
    From my blog at https://churbuck.com/2018/10/30/lab-r...I’m finishing Lab Rats by Dan Lyons and feeling thoroughly depressed but laughing about it. The feeling is like a go-to-bed-pull-the-shades-suck-my-thumb level of depressed while watching the Three Stooges. I was laughing before I finished the foreword.Lab Rats follows Lyons’ 2017 best-selling Disrupted, and as a bit of a sequel, it takes a horrifying look at the peculiar culture of contemporary companies which he experienced first hand at From my blog at https://churbuck.com/2018/10/30/lab-r...I’m finishing Lab Rats by Dan Lyons and feeling thoroughly depressed but laughing about it. The feeling is like a go-to-bed-pull-the-shades-suck-my-thumb level of depressed while watching the Three Stooges. I was laughing before I finished the foreword.Lab Rats follows Lyons’ 2017 best-selling Disrupted, and as a bit of a sequel, it takes a horrifying look at the peculiar culture of contemporary companies which he experienced first hand at Hubspot, a successful Cambridge, MA marketing software company. Disrupted landed with a bang in 2017, largely because a few executives got fired or censured by Hubspot’s board of directors for some weirdness involving the FBI and an investigation by the company’s law firm amidst rumors of extortion against the publisher, Harper-Collins.* It also is a very accurate and very funny account of what it feels like to be a fifty-something disrupted by transformation and reduced to going to work at a modern company that fires people and says they were “graduated,” invites a teddy bear to attend meetings to represent the customer, and substitutes wages for benefits such as a beer garden, candy wall, ping pong tables and bean bag chairs.Dan, who was a writer on HBO’s Silicon Valley for two seasons following his misadventure at Hubspot, is a great humorist, but also a great reporter, and his experience at Hubspot hit a chord with readers who flooded his inbox with confessions of their own workplace despair inflicted on them by incompetent managers, unscrupulous venture capitalists, and bullshit management theories that combines to make their office feel more like the Stanford prison experiment and less like the world-changing adventures the corporate mission statements, principles, values, DNA wall plaques and culture codes proclaimed they were.Soin the aftermath of Disrupted Dan went on the road and headed back to Silicon Valley, which he’s covered since the early 80s for PC Week, Forbes, Newsweek, the New York Times, Wired and GQ (and lampooned for two gloriously funny years when he anonymously gave the world The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs.)He opens with a lunch meeting somewhere in Menlo Park. He’s seated with a woman who uses Legos to train employees to reveal their secrets and fears and gel together as a “team.” After trying to hypnotize him, the Lego Lady asks him to make a duck out of the pieces. He hands her a single piece and declares that’s his duck.From the sweatshop conditions imposed by power-crazed venture capitalists who commit smash-and-grab public offerings by taking unprofitable startups public on the strength of a business model that essentially comes down to selling dollar bills for $0.75 cents, to Orwellian companies that plant moles amongst their employees and encourage snitching while reading those employees emails and instant messages, Lab Rats is about the perversion of modern work into a series of two-year tours of duty where the rank and file are subjected to a barrage of bizarre management theories ranging from Agile and Lean Startup, to Legos and the Holacracy.Having ended my own 3.5 year tour of duty in a software startup last March, I guess the book is picking off some scabs that I had left unscratched for the past few months while I recovered from the trauma of the open office, buzzword bingo, constant Slack interruptions, fights with the CEO over “purpose statements” and bullshit marketinglessness words like “Digital Experience.” The insanity of the modern startup, with its founders’ lemming-like drive to hustle their way to riches like their heroes Gary V., Travis Kalanick, Elon Musk, Eric Ries, the infliction of new “productivity apps” that aren’t productive at all, the constant surveys from the HR department to gauge morale, the team-building exercises, the meetings about meetings …..Dan writes in a target-rich environment tailor made for his are-you-shitting-me sense of humor.Goodbye to all that. All I can say in my old age is thank God I’m not 23 and saddled with a lot of college loans and dragging my butt into an office that looks like a day care center where nothing gets accomplished and the only certainty is getting fired.I now work at a place with no instant messaging, no interruptions, private offices, no quarterly morale surveys, no ping pong, no bullshit and I’ve never been happier. There are no meetings to plan meetings, no cheery emails declaring some co-worker is a “Super Star,” no reboots of the corporate strategy every quarter when the next management fad comes along to hypnotize the boss.I’ve never been happier, but I’ll also never forget the utter despair of modern digital marketing in an industry where “culture” comes down to reducing people to disposable beings who are measured, monitored, and berated into suicidal despair.Dan doesn’t dwell on the outrageous excesses of corporate culture emanating from the Valley. He shows some companies that actually subscribe to the old theory that “contented cows give more milk” and that employee happiness — starting with their compensation — actually makes for a better company, a true culture, and ultimately better products.* All’s well that ends well for those Hubspot execs — the stock went public at $30 and now trades around $130 — and one wound up as CEO of another hot company.**Dan and I were colleagues at publications ranging from our high school newspaper through The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, PC Week, and Forbes.
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  • Brita
    January 1, 1970
    "Two opposing viewpoints are vying for the soul of the corporation. On one side are oligarchs like [Reid] Hoffman and HR mavens like [Netflix's Patty] McCord. On the other side are the companies I call the good guys."I was always intrigued by Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, but never got around to reading it, so I snapped up the NetGalley ARC of this new title by Lyons. It's a critique of how the tech industry has contributed to negative trends in workplace conditions: income "Two opposing viewpoints are vying for the soul of the corporation. On one side are oligarchs like [Reid] Hoffman and HR mavens like [Netflix's Patty] McCord. On the other side are the companies I call the good guys."I was always intrigued by Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, but never got around to reading it, so I snapped up the NetGalley ARC of this new title by Lyons. It's a critique of how the tech industry has contributed to negative trends in workplace conditions: income inequality, job insecurity, disingenuous proclamations about "culture," and so on. I am a member of the choir and need very little preaching about problems like lack of diversity and obsession with productivity/profit in tech. However, I was so turned off by the author's black-and-white thinking on the topic (the above quote being just one of many examples) that I finished the book less convinced. And so much of his ire seems to stem from his personal experience at Hubspot that I lost any interest I'd had in his memoir.Lyons's profiles of changemakers in the industry, such as Basecamp and "Zebras Unite," were the book's major redeeming feature, enabling him to conclude on a hopeful note.
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  • Kathleen
    January 1, 1970
    An important study of how new management fads have contributed to the misery and stress of workers. The book concludes with a helpful discussion of companies that do it right.Having suffered through the application of new business methods to public education, I was especially receptive to the analysis.
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  • Steven Ridgely
    January 1, 1970
    Very interesting.
  • Betsy Dunphy
    January 1, 1970
    Lab Rats chronicles the startling decline in technology companys' respect for and treatment of employees and the investor dynamics behind it.
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