An old school friend advised me that in the Indian context, it is better not to tell anyone that I have been fired as it would have a deleterious impact on my reputation and job prospects. Better, he said, would be to use the word “resigned”. As you all know from last week’s post, “I just got fired”, I decided otherwise.
My rationale was simple. When I joined the Tata group, we decided not to make any announcements to the press or make me available for comments and interviews to the press. Despite this strategy, the Economic Times managed a scoop by featuring my hiring by Cyrus Mistry for the Group Executive Council on their front page. Subsequently, the news appeared in almost every Indian newspaper of consequence. My feeling was that this coverage was garnered because of the content that I had delivered to the Indian press over the preceding decade via the seven books that I had authored. Well, if I had arrived with a big bang in the country, I was determined not to go silently into the night just because I was fired.
It was a surprise to see the scale of amplification of last week’s post. It was picked by six major Indian newspapers for the front page of their print editions on Sunday. It was also reprinted on many websites and I continue to receive more such requests. The blog website got more than 30,000 views. Twitter was alive for at least three days, with my profile obtaining 12,000 views and hundreds of new followers.
LinkedIn was where the blog found the most resonance. More than 86,000 views, 4,000 likes, 380 shares and almost 420 people taking the time to comment. I discovered that there is an entire community of people who have been fired and were looking for someone to verbalise their feelings. My blog gave them voice. And, they appreciated it by sharing their personal stories with me. The humiliation they felt at being fired.
Stories of hope and sadness
The most heart-wrenching story was that of a colleague of a man in the US who committed suicide after they were both fired. But there was optimism too. Many told me how being fired helped them change course, do things they always wanted to do, reconnect with their families, work at helping others, start new businesses, and sometimes, end up in better jobs. Clearly, there is a potential TED talk called “I Was Just Fired”.
The power of social media is interesting. It is hard to control when things go viral. On Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, the comments were more than 99% in my favour. But, when the blog was published on the websites of major newspaper, it was less than 50%. Why this difference, I wondered?
On social media, for the most part, you are identified. In contrast, on a newspaper website’s comments section, someone can, by posting a few anonymous comments, change the direction of the commentary. Social media is too vast to be controlled by any PR firm, especially when stories go viral in a big way. For this reason, it is understandably, a very frustrating medium for traditional marketers and PR agencies seeking to manage their message.
Being an academic, I believe in the power of ideas. I hope through this experience to teach my wonderful daughter, who receives this blog, that the pen is mightier than the sword. While it may seem at times that money and power are winning, history teaches us that no matter how many popes and kings had repeated that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around the earth, the truth, as it always does, won in the end. It may just seem like a long time while you are living it.
This experience also taught me that there is a big difference between being egoistic and insecure. Egoistic people are relatively predictable and harmless. Insecurity, on the other hand, leads to irrationality. In trying to avoid shooting themselves in the foot, insecure people can end up shooting themselves in both feet.
Over the past week, strangers came to me and said that they had read my blog. Sometimes, they shared a phrase or a sentence with their interpretation and complimented me on how deep it was. I wish I could take credit. But, to be honest, I wrote it in 40 minutes while in the “flow”. I am not sure how much of it was conscious and how much from the subconscious.
As I indicated, it is in this type of situation that you discover your friends. I was touched by the outpouring of warm feelings and the belief that my friends, ex-students, and ex colleagues had in my next act. Many who had not been in touch for some time, sent me emails or messages. Altogether, I received at least 1,000 emails and other messages, if one includes those via Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Typical of these messages was:
“Wow, I just read your blog on being fired. I thought it was amazingly human, candid, moving and gracious at the same time. Very impressive. Obviously a big shock, but your talents will no doubt turn it into an even bigger triumph. Let me know if I can be of any assistance with anything.”
Unable to cope with all the messages, I am using this medium to say I am very grateful for your warmth and support. In time, I will respond individually. This only reinforces what I learnt from my favourite Latin philosopher, Horace, who wrote in Satires: “I live in the affection of my friends.”
Let me end by saying that this is the final post on this subject. From next week, I will revert to the more general management issues.
As for more on Tata from me, you must wait for the case, the book, and the movie. I wonder who will play me!
Nirmalya Kumar is a visiting professor of marketing and London Business School and distinguished Fellow at INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute.