Why I name names
If you submit something to me and request anonymity, I will protect your identity. But nearly all of the material I critique comes from public news articles, people’s social media feeds, and mass emails that a company or agency sends to an individual. And in those cases, I don’t mask people’s identity. Here’s why:
- The corporate context is relevant. When Johnson & Johnson posts an overwritten job description, it matters that it comes from a large, well-respected company. When Inc. magazine hosts a misleading post, both the author’s credentials and the publication matter. I want you to understand, not just what’s wrong with these pieces, but how they came to be.
- My first objective is to teach, not to shame. If you don’t learn anything from my critique, I’ve failed. I praise what’s good and analyze what’s bad. Yes, I am quite happy to use humor to make my point, but when I make fun of something, it’s because it reveals the absurdity of writing bullshit and passing it off as truth.
- I want to hold people responsible. Everyone who sends an email or makes a blog post should worry if their writing is ridiculous, and fix it. I’d like everyone to imagine that the words they publish will end up on withoutbullshit.com — if that makes them think twice and edit what they have written, that’s great. (I’d never ridicule anyone who sent me a one-to-one personal email, but when I hear from professional contacts now, they sometimes say “I have tried to write this email in a bullshit-free way.” I think that’s great.)
- I give people a chance to respond. When possible, I will interview people and ask “why did you do this?” That’s what I did with the people who made useless infographics, for example. It’s not only fair, it’s revealing. (I can’t do this in cases that are very public — Donald Trump won’t talk to me — or extremely timely. And I’ve learned that journalists just ignore me.)
- I have nothing to fear. People worry that if they name names, they’ll get in trouble with the boss, piss off a client, or make themselves unemployable. I have no boss, don’t worry about clients, and need no further employment. My commitment is to the truth and to you, my readers, as a group, not to any individual. In other words, I name names because I can, and you deserve someone who will.
What I do is not polite. But I value truth over politeness. I try not to be arrogant. When I speak to those I critique, there’s a sheepish acceptance — they know they need to do better. I will not change the names to protect those guilty of writing that wastes our time, because you deserve to know who they are and what they’ve done — and to make sure you do not become one of them.
You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.
Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been trying to say, and how I’ve been trying to live my life, for some time now! “What I do is not polite. But I value truth over politeness” is one of the best “policy statements” that I’ve heard!
I aspire to meet you. And, if you knew my history, I’m confident you would appreciate why.
So long as a person does not bully or demean someone they’re calling out for improvement, truth should be expressed, even when it’s not necessarily being clothed in politeness.