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Lab Rats: How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of Us

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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.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published October 23, 2018

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About the author

Dan Lyons

6 books31 followers
I grew up in Massachusetts, went to University of Michigan for an MFA in Creative Writing. That's where I started writing seriously. My first book was a collection of short stories, followed by two novels. Then I switched to non-fiction. I've been a journalist for most of my career. My wife and I have two teenage kids and we live in the suburbs of Boston.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 236 reviews
Profile Image for Bharath.
594 reviews448 followers
March 1, 2021
I read Dan Lyons ‘Disrupted’ about his experiences working with Hubspot and found it very interesting. In contrast, this book takes a broader view and discusses why the world of work is so much more stressful and less satisfying today than in the past.

Dan Lyons lays the blame largely on the management practices and culture emanating out of Silicon Valley, where the leadership mostly lacks people skills. The problem is getting worse with most traditional companies trying to ape the toxic practices which stress employees and increase income disparities. Flippancy & theatrics now rule over substance, and old school values such as respect, career progression, camaraderie at work have taken a beating. Dan has examples from many companies, especially leading technology companies, on how work is getting depressing with the issues being broadly – monetary benefits declining, job insecurity, constant (largely pointless) change and dehumanization. Lack of diversity & ageism are rampant and constant monitoring of employees added to all the other issues has elevated stress to levels which never existed before.

A lot of the ecosystem these days is structured for the founders & leaders to make money based on valuations & stock prices. The Gig economy with part-time workers makes things worse for employees though it is emerging as a great way to cut costs. A lot of industry attempts to fashion a cult-like culture with grandiose statements such as “We are out to change the world”, with a lot of frivolous workplace benefits (under the impression that this is what millennials want). He discusses the contrast in current popular management practices vs that of the last century. The Netflix culture code says it all – ‘We are a team, not a family’, and as Dan questions “Can we not be both?”. The discussion on the latest fads – Agile, Lean Startup, Holacracy are hilarious and engaging. They raise very important questions, though not all his conclusions are right. There is a tendency to jump from one fad to another keeping companies in constant change, employees in fear which takes a toll on health & productivity. The final sections discuss examples of companies doing it right (such as Basecamp, Managed by Q) and the positive trend of impact investing to bring about positive societal change.

This is an important book – it cuts through the pretentiousness and is thought provoking. The sweet spot lies at the intersection of companies caring for their employees and employees putting in their best & constantly improving. This is why, I do not judge the writings of Ayn Rand (Dan refers to her as a nutty author), despite the megalomaniac lead characters in her books, as harshly as many do – we cannot escape taking a hard look at ourselves – what we are capable of and what we are actually doing. Also, growth & success does create energy. That said, Dan gets right many of the leadership & culture issues most companies face and also important – that younger workers want something different is a lie. We all crave for respect & care.

It was good to read this book shortly after ‘Enlightenment Now’ by Steven Pinker (also thought provoking). There is a lot which aggregate statistics hide and issues real people face is the story – which this book does well to bring out.

A book I certainly recommend – it is very engaging & lively, other than raising the most vital issues in today’s work cultures, though some of the reasoning is simplistic and not wholly accurate.

My rating: 4.5 / 5.
April 6, 2021
Why now? Why has the workplace become a cross between a kindergarten and a Scientology assessment center? Why do our offices now have decor that looks like a Montessori preschool, with lots of bright, basic colors? Why does work now involve such infantilization? ...
“It feels like you’ve joined a cult,” says a thirty-something software programmer whose department spent a day doing a Lego workshop. “The purpose seems to be to indoctrinate people to follow orders.” (c)

Oh, gosh. Finally someone is saying this aloud. Well, not aloud but in writing. Works for me.

For the last two years, I have made it my mission to speak to as many people as I can to better understand the modern workplace and why work today seems to make so many people unhappy. My theory is that at least some of the unhappiness at work comes from being herded into silly workshops where people are fed a bunch of touchy-feely nonsense about self-improvement and transformation. (c)
HR people used to be glorified office managers, but now they get MBAs and are called Chief People Officers. They talk about being “strategic talent managers” who “drive corporate transformation” and are “building the workforce of the future.” They’re suckers for pop neuroscience, and though most wouldn’t know an amygdala from an anal wart, they will jump on anything that they think can rewire the brain circuitry of their employees. (c)
To me these sessions sound like a waking nightmare, like a cross between an away day and group therapy, with the added insult of toys. (c)
Do a search for “Ball Point Game” on YouTube and you can watch fully sentient adult human beings actually doing this at work. (c)
You find yourself being gaslighted, immersed in the kind of shared psychosis and group delusion found in cults. You know these workshops are pointless, and that no one is going to be transformed by Lego. But to keep your job, you must play along. You must deliver a performance and convince management that you are flexible, adaptable, and open to change, the kind of engaged, dynamic worker who meets the needs of the new economy. (с)
Your office has become a psychology laboratory, run by a bunch of quacks. You’re not a duck. You’re a lab rat. (c)
Weirder still, when they fired someone they called it “graduation.” We would get an email saying how “awesome” it was that so-and-so was “graduating,” taking their “superpowers” on to a new adventure. (c)
They were hired for a job in which it was unclear what they would be doing, and when they asked for guidance they were told that people who needed direction were not cut out for the modern workplace; they were supposed to be “self-directed.” (c)
Some were ... coerced into “forced fun” activities, like indoor skydiving, ballroom dancing, or trapeze training, and told they were supposed to be having fun. One young woman had been fired because, as her boss put it, “You’re not excited enough.” (c)
“I still have nightmares about the place, where I’m trying to prove I’m not an idiot—to idiots!” (c)
The problem is that a venture capitalist writing a book about how companies should treat employees is like Ted Bundy offering dating advice to young women. (c)
In his memoir, The Management Myth: Debunking Modern Business Philosophy, former management consultant Matthew Stewart recalls his first job interview in which he was tested on his ability to bullshit: “The purpose of the exercise was to see how easily I could talk about a subject about which I knew almost nothing on the basis of facts that were almost entirely fictional. It was, I realized in retrospect, an excellent introduction to management consulting.” (c)

... research that shows that being exposed to persistent, low-grade change leads to depression and anxiety. The suffering is akin to what we experience after the death of a loved one or spending time in combat. (c) Dunno. A bit too drastic-y. Isn't it?
It was difficult enough to be grappling with complex issues like growing income and wealth inequality, and the potential impact of robotics, artificial intelligence, and automation—but now we would have a man-child president whose obsessions included arming schoolteachers, banning Muslims, and building a wall at the Mexican border. At a time of unprecedented social and economic change, at the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the American people had elected a chimp with a machine gun. Everyone looked scared, disruptors and disrupted alike. (c) Come on. The guy's no worse than any of the US presidents after Kennedy. Basically this goes to show that a bunch of people got themselves to believe a bunch of horror stories about Trump. And scared themselves shitless. Ha-ha-ha.
Profile Image for Sharon.
Author 38 books376 followers
September 16, 2018
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
Profile Image for David.
652 reviews238 followers
October 22, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Rob Enderle.
184 reviews3 followers
November 4, 2018
Boy if there was ever a book every kid planning a career in tech should read this is it, and for a lot of folks in tech, this book suggests you are all idiots for putting up with the amount of abuse a bunch of rich dot-com losers are handing out. This book will piss you off because it is well researched, points out that way too many tech leaders are flim-flam artists and way too many of us are the suckers. The result isn't trivial either depression, suicides, divorces all avoidable are the result. If there is a book that you should read this fall, Lab Rats is it.
Profile Image for Marks54.
1,334 reviews1,154 followers
February 9, 2019
The author is a writer and business journalist. He wrote a book - Disrupted - two years ago which chronicled his time spent with an Internet startup he joined after being laid off at Newsweek. I enjoyed the book and thought it an insightful and humorous memoir of changes in the workplace in light of the spread of the Internet economy. There are, of course, lots of these books around but Lyons provided a look at a much hyped development as someone who both knew how to write and who was familiar with older styles of workplace management. My major issue with the book had been sorting out the general aspects of what Mr. Lyons was reporting from the particular aspects of his experience as a participant in his own story.

After reading his new book, I should not have worried about that.

Lab Rats is an extended reflection on the deterioration of the workplace in recent years, based on reactions to Lyons’ first book. His premise this time around is that life at work has been getting much worse for workers in recent years and in his new book, he sets out to do some explaining about this and offer some responses and alternatives.

The central intuition behind the book goes back to “shareholder capitalism” as expounded by Milton Friedman and others in the 1970s, namely that the purpose of corporate management is to enrich shareholders - period - and that as a result, managers have no obligation to treat workers well, pay them any more than necessary, or attend to their career or life aspirations. At its extreme, this suggests that workers are employed “at will” and are lucky to get whatever paychecks they can. When managers no longer need them, they can be dispensed with quickly and without consideration. This basic relationship is a major change from how workers had been treated in American Capitalism in the late 20th century and the change to it goes a long way to explain why modern workplaces, especially in high tech businesses, seem to have become so toxic on such a large scale. It also fits in nicely with related trends, such as the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs and their movement overseas, the shift to contract and temporary labor without benefits or career potential, and the rampant growth of income inequality in the West since the 1970s.

This may sound a bit harsh, but Mr. Lyons is onto something and is on fairly solid ground. He provides a series of examples, short cases, and profiles of representative individuals in the rest of the book. The examples are well chosen and the writing is effective. There is some overlap with the examples covered in other recent books, but not that much and certainly not a problem.

After outlining the problem, Lyons provides some effective discussion of some alternatives, primarily of two sorts. One is how the new workplace just comes across as crazy when compared with traditional management approaches. This whole discussion is good but also makes clear the role of fads and fancy in management practice - something that has been around for at least a century. The second line of discussion was to go into detail regarding impact investing and social entrepreneurship. This was very well done and while these developments are still at a fairly small scale, they are important and worth learning more about.

It would have been good if Mr. Lyons had deconstructed the premises of Friedman’s perspective, but that has been done in detail elsewhere. The book is well worth reading and provides ample guidance for readers who wish to follow up and learn more.
Profile Image for Andria.
282 reviews8 followers
June 15, 2019
I almost gave up on this one halfway through, but I'm glad I stuck around for the much stronger concluding section. If you are not already familiar with the problems of modern work (long hours, unreasonable expectations, lack of benefits, job insecurity, the 1099/gig economy, surveillance etc) and their origins (mainly Silicon Valley), it serves as a good primer with some exceptions. I could not follow the author's wistful and uncritical admiration of companies like Ford, which have their own records of abuse against employees.

The later section on "conscious capitalism" and the benefits of treating employees like human beings was much more interesting.

Lyons read his own work and for the most part did a good job but there were certain points where he clearly thought his writing was more amusing than it was that dragged on. Could have done without that. Overall an uneven book with an interesting message.
Profile Image for Hải.
263 reviews60 followers
November 7, 2018
Kinda depressing. You already knew it happened out there in the real technology and startup world, but still, reading about it was uneasy.

About the book, I would rate it somewhere between 3 and 4. I was hesitant for a while but then put 4 for it. My problem with it, and the way author Dan Lyons expressed his ideas was there was so much negative energy. Looked like the author exaggerated lots of things and was angry with everything. Not only in these recent days, at some big unicorn tech companies that CEOs/bosses/investors treat workers like shit, it has been happened since, maybe forever. And blaming Silicon Valley for being the one who started it was just unfair and absurd.

The last part of the book is better. It provides and suggests some ways companies can do to make workers' and employees' life better. It would be good if more and more follow that culture.
Profile Image for Meagan Houle.
566 reviews10 followers
January 27, 2019
I was not a fan of "Disrupted," but "Lab Rats" really impressed me. Lyons uses concise, accessible language to describe complex concepts without straying into oversimplification territory. I particularly liked his four-point summary in the introduction; it frames the rest of the book beautifully, and helps the reader keep all the details straight. The way he observes that Silicon Valley is more interested in what works for machines than in what works for humans is especially apt, and that comparison helps explain why management styles of today prioritize efficiency over employee retention, making us all miserable for no good reason.
The only criticism I have is the way Lyons paints the 1980's tech scene with rose-coloured nostalgia. Visions of tech CEOs lounging casually in hot tubs, drinking and making deals might seem ideal to some, but Lyons erases women in his recounting, failing to mention that the old tech scene was hostile to women and minorities. I nitpick here not just because I think a nuanced summary of the past is important, but also because this hostile, inner-circle business style kept so many talented people from averting later disasters and steering Silicon Valley--and by extension, the entire western workforce--into a better direction.
Overall, the book is easy to follow and hard to put down. Lyons' clear-eyed assessments of the way management has been twisted over the years is valuable for any employee, whether they work in the heart of Silicon Valley or on a factory floor. I hope that the people with the power to make real change happen read this book and come to understand that without strong teams and a healthy culture, we're not headed anywhere good.
Profile Image for Bob Varettoni.
184 reviews5 followers
October 27, 2018
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.”
Profile Image for Annoe.
53 reviews
November 24, 2022
Unfortunately I only read 7/8th of this book because my dad took it while I was reading it because he was like wow this looks interesting I should be reading about business and money and stuff so he took my copy and didn't give it back. But he is really enjoying it though like he is refusing to give it back now and also he doesn't even like english stuff and this book is in english so yeah that's how interesting it is.

This book is also depressingly insightful on modern work culture and I feel bad for everyone who has to work in fear that they can be jobless the day after. But I liked the optimistic part where it tells you about the stuff that companies with happyish mental stable employees, and what they did to achieve that. And overall this book doesn't even just apply to like running a workforce but also relationships in general. People clearly thrive when they have security and money and like apparently that's not a thing at Netflix and startups anymore. Which is funny cause they're always like bUt You geT TO dO WHat YOu ENjoy yeah but so passion pay the bills? Pretty sure those half alive Amazon workers have zero soul, let alone PASSION, left in them based on the authors description of their working condition in Amazon warehouses. So yeah this is what the book is basically about and it makes fun of other silly things like those quirky team building workshops.
Profile Image for Ania.
192 reviews37 followers
April 20, 2021
Książka dość zaskakująca – spodziewałam się raczej osobistych zapisek z życia autora, a dostałam ciekawy przekrój przez nowoczesne metody zarządzania, krótką historię Agile i Lean Startup (spoiler alert – nie jest to tak fajne, jak wszyscy sądzą) oraz case studies wielu firm i ich kultur pracy. Od Forda, poprzez IBM, Netflixa oraz Amazon.

W wielu miejscach książka potrafi przysłowiowo „dobić” ale też skłania do zastanowienia się nad tym, kim jesteśmy jako pracownicy i pracodawcy. I że warto być bardziej „ludzcy”. Czasami miałam za to wrażenie, że autor przejaskrawia i widzi wszystko w biało-czarnych barwach. Plus za przedstawienie także pozytywnych przykładów tego, jak można organizować pracę w przedsiębiorstwie.

Polecam, chociaż mam wrażenie, że pierwsza połowa była bardziej interesująca, niż druga.
Profile Image for Yasemin Vatandas.
26 reviews2 followers
May 24, 2020
Serdar Kuzuloğlu’nun tavsiyesi üzerine başladığım bir kitaptı. Açıkçası ilk 2-3 bölüm, yazarın biraz subjektif olduğunu düşündürttüğünden ve özellikle 3. bölümde Frederick Taylor hakkında ileri geri konuşmasından dolayı (bir endüstri mühendisine yapılmaması gereken bir hareket :) ) kitabı bir kenara koymuştum. Bayram tatili ile birlikte bir şans daha vermek istedim ve iyi ki de okumaya devam etmişim.

Kitabın ana konusu ve amacı, değişen iş hayatı ve yönetim şeklini, neden insan odağının kalmamış olduğunu ve mutsuz çalışanlar ordusuna dönüştü��ümüzü, teknolojinin bunda oynadığı rolü, iş dünyasında son 50 yıldır kartların yeniden dağıtıldığı gerçeğini ve içinde olduğumuz yüzyılda tüm bunların nasıl bir hal alacağını insan odaklı olarak ele almak, riskleri anlatmak ve olası çözüm yaklaşımlarından örnekler vererek okuyucuyu “ben aslında bir kobaymışım, peki ne yapabilirim” noktasına getirmek. En azından kitabın bendeki seyri bu oldu.
Zayıf bulduğum tarafı ise bazı önermelerini iyi temellendirememiş veya argümanlara dayandıramamış olmasıydı. Örneğin; kitap boyunca eleştirilen Agile ve Lean Start-up’ın neden başarısız olduğuna dair somut ve tatmin edici örnekler yoktu, daha ziyade hepimizin işyerlerinde yaptığı serzenişlere benziyordu. Evet, “one-size-fits-all” bir çözüm olmadığında hemfikirim, ama bu yöntemlere aşina biri olarak faydalı oldukları alanlar da olduğunu düşünüyorum. Bence kitabın en zayıf yönü buydu.

Altını çizdiğim pek çok cümle/paragraf oldu: “Sürekli korku altında yaşayanlar işlerini iyi yapamaz” bunlardan ve kitabın temel argümanlarından biri, laboratuvar kobaylarının üzerinde yapılan korku deneyleri ile iş hayatında çalışanlara yapılan muamele arasında bir benzerlik kuruyor. İleriki bölümlerde de sık sık değinilen bu konu, diğer mutsuzluk nedenleriyle birlikte resmi tamamlıyor: “para, güvencesizlik, değişim ve insandışılaştırma”.
Bu nedenlerin hepsi gerçek hayattan şirket ve insan örnekleriyle anlatılıyor.

En vahim bölümlerden biri, şirketlerin ve sermaye sahiplerinin çalışanların haklarını nasıl sistematik ve örtülü olarak gasp ettiğinin anlatıldığı bölümdü. Ana fikir şu: “daha az işçinin daha çok çalışmasından doğacak karı kendi cebimize aktarmak bizim hakkımız ve aslında tek gayemiz”
Bu bölümü de, doğal olarak, gelir dengesizliğinin anlatıldığı bölüm takip ediyor. Bu uçurum, Silikon Vadisi yıllarında giderek derinleşmiş. Çünkü şirketler daha iyi imkanlar sunabilecekleri halde çalışanlarına asgari düzeyde haklar sunmayı bir iş stratejisi olarak benimsemişler. Amaç karı maksimize edip onu da cebe indirmek. Aslında bu karı, asıl sahipleri olan emekçilerle bölüşebilecekken, sermayeye sermaya katmak düşüncesi gerçekten insan dışı geliyor. Ama olan tam da bu. “Biz bir takımız, aile değil!” bakış açısı ile çalışanlar sadece maddi olarak değil manevi olarak da zarara uğratılıyor. Kitabın başında bahsedilen “korku” duygusu yoğun şekilde aktarılıyor çalışana: “seninle herhangi bir bağım yok, her an kovulabilirsin, ve sakın yanlış anlama, bu kişisel bir şey değil, sadece iş!” Oysa iş, en kişisel meselelerimizden biri değil mi, etrafında hayatımızı şekillendirmek zorunda kaldığımız?

İşlerin bu kadar kötüye gitmesinde, teknolojinin rolü çok büyük. Eminim hepimiz “neden bu kadar hızlı yaşamak zorundayız ki?” diye düşünmüşüzdür. Belli bir noktaya kadar teknoloji, verimliliği arttırmak için gelişti, gelişti. Ve gerçekten de insancıl olmayan bazı işlerin teknolojiye devredilmesi doğruydu. Ancak tepe noktasını geçtik ve artık teknoloji bize değil, biz teknolojiye hizmet eder hale geldik. “Robotlar, makineler dünyayı ele mi geçirecek” sorusuna benim cevabım “çoktan ele geçirdi bile” olurdu.
Çünkü şirketler çalışanlarına “robot” muamelesi yapmaya başladı. İnsanla çalıştıklarını unuttular.
“İnsandışılaştırma” bölümünde hazin örneklerle bu durum anlatılıyor.

Kitabın son bölümlerinde ise bunların tersine, doğru ve insan odaklı uygulamaların olduğu şirketler anlatılıyor. Dünyada hala iyi ve idealist insanlar varmış.

Aslında kitaptan aktarmak istediğim daha çok şey var ancak kitabın bende bıraktığı izi özetleyecek olursam: ben de bir çalışan olarak bu kobay deneylerine maruz kalıyorum ve aynı zamanda bir yönetici olarak bunları uygulamak zorunda bırakılabiliyorum. Belki çalıştığım şirketin bu konudaki vizyonunu hiçbir zaman değiştiremeyeceğim ancak kendi etki alanımda, yıllar önce UPS Airlines’ın Ceo’sunun bir sohbetinde bize başarısının sırrı olarak anlattığı “care about your people” prensibini benimsersem, verilecek zararı aza indirebilirim.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
4 reviews
April 18, 2021
Notable untenable/ contradictory position: change is bad for workers but also let’s change the way we’re doing things for workers—this time is different. Are we really meant to believe that the old way was better for women & minorities? Completely ignored the me too movement.
Some good points on labor, challenges, and how people feel in the “always on” culture. Requires sifting through the political though and unsurprisingly the “good guys” aren’t examined as closely.
Overall, humorous and a decent read. Pop culture level of rigour. Not meant to be completely fair or serious. Entertaining, raises more good questions than good answers.
Profile Image for Piotr.
103 reviews
May 24, 2020
Mam mieszane uczucia. Z jednej strony autor prezentuje ciekawą perspektywę, pokazując jak firmy będące częścią „internetowej rewolucji”, zarówno te podziwiane na pierwszych stronach gazet jak i dopiero co założone, tworzą toksyczne i patologiczne środowisko pracy. Z drugiej pisząc o podejściu agile w wytwarzaniu oprogramowania serwuje uproszczenia ocierające się o kłamstwa. Nie jest to część istotna dla przesłania książki, ale po pierwsze, powstaje wątpliwość, czy równie niestarannie nie zbierał materiałów do reszty książki, a po drugie robi czytelnikom nieznającym tematu wodę z mózgu. Złośliwy, bardzo kolokwialny i sensacyjny styl pisania działał mi momentami na nerwy. Na pewno nie jest to książka wyważona, bardziej dzieło aktywisty. Mimo to warto się z nią zapoznać, a już obowiązkowo jeśli ktoś polubił serial „Silicon Valley”.

Większość doniesień o firmach z Doliny Krzemowej skupia się na imponującym wzroście i śmiałych pomysłach, więc przydatne jest poznanie mniej korzystnych dla tych firm faktów. „Korposzczury” dają niezły przegląd licznych bezsensownych praktyk i koszmarnych pomysłów, a dodatkowo przypominają skandaliczne zachowania i wypowiedzi założycieli i zarządzających. Ciekawe jest zestawienie sposobu zarządzania firmą modnego teraz z postępowaniem czołowych firm sprzed internetowej rewolucji.

Lyons pokazuje też, jak branżowi celebryci pouczający innych o prowadzeniu firmy i traktowaniu pracowników okazują się po przyjrzeniu się ich życiorysowi zupełnie niekompetentni do dawania takich porad. Rozdział o najbardziej „wizjonerskich” i mało jeszcze popularnych pomysłach kontroli pracowników jest przerażający. Większość z tych dystopicznych idei była dla mnie nowa, mimo że śledzę wiadomości o nowinkach technicznych. Mocną stroną książki są rozważania o giełdzie, funduszach venture capital, czynnikach powodujących, że firmy odnoszą sukcesy i różnych inicjatywach w kierunku odmiennego prowadzenia przedsiębiorstw.

Co do kłamstw i uproszczeń, w części o produkcji oprogramowania Lyons zaprzecza sam sobie: z jednej strony pisze, jakoby agile to szkodliwe pomysły wprowadzane tylko po to, by gnębić pracowników z dłuższym stażem, a z drugiej strony przytacza, że przed popularnością agile branża oprogramowania znajdowała się w kryzysie i regularnie projekty kończyły się przekroczeniem budżetu i porażką. Jak w takim razie agile zepsuł rynek oprogramowania, skoro już wcześniej było katastrofalnie źle? Autor zaprosił na rozmowę Martina Fowlera i miał wszelkie warunki, by poznać kontekst historyczny z ust człowieka, który obserwował kryzys oprogramowania, zaproponował wyjście i patrzył, jak sytuacja rozwija się dalej – ale nie wykorzystał takiej okazji. Wyciągnął od Fowlera to, co chciał, czyli cytat, że agile to obecnie w większości ściema, i na tym poprzestał. To karygodne niechlujstwo w zbieraniu materiałów i nie mam zamiaru wybaczyć Lyonsowi pisania bzdur o rzeczach, na których się nie zna, bo miał wszelkie możliwości zdobyć zweryfikowane informacje. Autor podaje też w tym rozdziale tylko te fakty, które pasują do założonej tezy: dowody na skuteczność metod zwinnych są, jeśli poszukać nie publikacji akademickich, ale zbiorczych raportów z branży, czyli udostępnianej od roku 1994 publikacji Chaos Report firmy doradczej Standish.

Nie podoba mi się podejście z wyższością i pogardą do różnych metodologii, bez nawet próby zrozumienia: Lyons pisze że jest scrum, do tego jest kanban, czyli trochę inny scrum, oraz lean, który jest jeszcze inną „religią”, cytując książkę. Prezentuje miejscami bardzo kiepskiego sortu dziennikarstwo podchodząc do opisywanych tematów z uprzedzeniami i ferując z góry wyroki do rzeczy, których nie próbuje zrozumieć.
Profile Image for Daniel.
621 reviews82 followers
February 13, 2019
I thoroughly enjoyed this book by Lyons. He used to work for Newsweek but tried to work for a tech company when he was retrenched. There was so much positive feedback from people for his first book Disrupted that he realised his experience is not unique.

Why are we lab rats of Silicon Valley? Lyons laid out the villains:

1. Frederick Taylor, who proposed scientific management. So he timed every action in the pig iron factory. Unfortunately the story is a fraud, a fabrication. So workers become a process that are ‘managed’

2. Milton Friedman, who said that the duty of a corporation is only to maximise shareholder profit.

3. The internet

Adding all 3 together, profit is most important, and workers should be treated as badly as possible to minimise cost, and technology is used to monitor workers so that they would be penalised for less than perfect performance. So life is already bad for workers.

Then came the Venture capitalists and stock market IPOs. The new modus operandi: provide some minimally viable product, charge low and undercut others to gain market share, and then IPO, and then cash out. The unicorns need not even make money, so the business needs not be sustainable and workers need not be valued. Best to treat them as independent contractors to skim on healthcare and pension. Workers can therefore be forced to be treated like lab rats and forced to do lego under observation etc. Workers cannot expect loyalty and can be sacked any time even when doing a good job. Stock options are sometimes taken away for no reason.

Last come the management fads such as Startup if You (no more employees but contractors); Agile (nobody knows what it is except for the meetings); holacracy (nobody in charge and tons of meetings). Endless suffering ensues.

The solution, is for a different kind of company, preferably the private type. A new breed of entrepreneurs such as Managed by Q where they actually employ their workers. Also a new breed of Venture Capitalists such as the Kapor couple who had tried to advise Uber to change, to no avail. The Kapors now fund socially impactful endeavours. Studies are new emerging that companies that treat their employees well actually perform better. They can get the B Corp Certification that proves that they treat their employees well.

So we have hope yet!
Profile Image for Shelly.
39 reviews
May 9, 2019
I found the book mildly amusing for the first few chapters and then Lyons descended into didactic ranting. Read the book with a grain of salt as Lyons has a very particular opinion on the subject of the work place (a very skewed bias towards Ford, apparently, which was random) and a harsh outlook towards too much tech in your daily life/tech makes life worse, not better.

I enjoyed it for his research into workplace and psychology, but when you just try to pound in a single point and don't bother to cover opposing arguments the book just plateaus and my interest drops for a while because it's just more information on how Companies A, B, and C are just complete crap places to work and how Companies X, Y, and Z don't do what Companies A, B, and C do and are utopias.

If you already agree with his point of view, you'll just be fed supporting facts. If you didn't completely agree with him to begin with, you'll still feel that way after reading--not a big deal but his points could be presented better, fairer? I'm not sure what adverb I'm looking for yet...
Profile Image for Kent Winward.
1,679 reviews46 followers
December 1, 2018
I read three books in succession and each did well for what their authors set out as their goals. Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane is the Utopian version of where technology is taking us. Lab Rats: How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of Us provides the Dystopian view. While Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence contains the more nuanced approach. The wonder of technology is that all three versions are probably correct.
Profile Image for ScienceOfSuccess.
109 reviews190 followers
February 17, 2021
I feel like this whole book is a rant after being kinked off from a job. On the other hand, it's hard to not agree with most points made by Dan.

In this book, the author discovered that companies noted on the stock market serve only the investors, and don't care about their workers. They do everything to have more investors, and the go-to strategy is to build a startup and sell it on IPO. This environment changes the workplace into a workcamp and makes people miserable. Also, no one wants old people in startups.

Dan found 2 companies that use the "old" model with respecting workers and praise them for the noble action.

Profile Image for Greg.
162 reviews6 followers
December 5, 2018
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 reverberating 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.
30 reviews17 followers
August 28, 2020
Entertaining and eye-opening dive into the working world in Silicon Valley and beyond. I recognize some of the corporate techniques in my industry. Frightening.
Profile Image for Aurelian Cotuna.
28 reviews1 follower
January 13, 2023
I enjoyed this book, even if I think that the previous one (Disrupted) is better.
What I like about this one is that it covers more in depth the technicalities of the cultural mess there is in some software companies.

The story lacks some jokes and funny tone of the previous one, and it is more serious, but for good reason.

Worth reading
Profile Image for Anil Koroglu.
16 reviews2 followers
July 22, 2020
Personality tests. Team-building exercises. Forced Fun. Desktop surveillance. Open-plan offices. Acronyms. Diminishing job security. Hot desking. Pointless perks. Hackathons.
If you wanna see Silicon Valley’s in its true aspect should read this.
Profile Image for Sarah.
959 reviews4 followers
April 5, 2020
Lots of interesting information about how disappointing big business has become
Profile Image for KC.
233 reviews9 followers
October 25, 2019
The stuffy world of bloated corporate business bureaucracy often looks envyingly over at the tech startup world, coveting the lean agility, the hypergrowth, and the nimbleness and romanticism of forging new paths in the emerging wild west of new business frontiers. The big companies try to tinker around the edges with casual Fridays, beanbags, and ping-pong tables, but the hierarchies and power structures are just too far entrenched for any surface meddling to make any meaningful difference.

However, in this book, the tables are turned. Dan Lyons, a disgruntled Hubspot employee (who he joined after his career in journalism washed up) details all that ails the new working systems and cultures of the tech startup world, and makes a case that growth-at-all-costs and churn-and-burn hiring practices are creating a poisonous groundwork for the job economy.

It may just seem like a rant from a has-been who just can't keep pace with the modern world that has passed him by (and to be clear, there is a bit of that going on) but there are some very valid points and observations found here.

A major point offered is about the dehumanizing effect that technology-led processes can have on the workforce. This is especially true in hiring, where the company HireVue (founded by a high school classmate of mine) prods applicants through a system and ai-led process of interviewing and hiring. An applicant can get rejected without a human being ever have been aware of their application.

Beyond that, the massive amounts of data collected and tagged to individuals can raise some privacy concerns. To quote directly:

“The whole process of recruiting and evaluating and hiring used to be haphazard and half-assed, with information strewn across different systems and kept in paper files. It’s messy, but that messiness of the analog world was basically what we called privacy.”

That's an interesting point there. There seems to be a case that the inefficacies, inaccessibility, redundancies, disconnects, and pursuant ignorance and forgetfulness of the analog world wasn't a bug, it was a feature! I think I take issue with this point, but I do appreciate the value of getting a clean slate that never-forgets systems will undermine.

The conclusion seems to center around the idea that many people go into business to "make the world a better place." Yet, their business creates stress, misery, and in some cases, economic instability for many involved. Rather than a growth and shareholder value mindset, entrepreneurs may be better served by making the world a better place for those that work at their companies. That proposition is far more close to home.

Profile Image for Jane.
Author 30 books80 followers
August 31, 2020
An engaging read with lots to chew on. I wrote a book called Working with Purpose back in 2003, making a case that the business of business is NOT just increasing shareholder wealth. Things haven’t gotten better since then but this book lays out the accelerated harm to people and the growing numbers of investors and companies who are ready for change, and making changes at least in their own domains.
Profile Image for Ron.
58 reviews2 followers
January 15, 2019
What is it like working for a VC funded startup or a large tech company? Well, with some perks, it may not be so great. Long hours and lousy health insurance. Lab Rats is about the human experiment on working people to the point of breaking and then replacing them. They can be fired for any reason, even if the boss is just having a bad day. Companies (big and small) jump from one new management system to another which requires training and more training from the workers. Many times nothing makes any sense but if you complain then you don't fit the "culture". As a tech worker, you may be given stock options but companies fail or you do before you can get any return.

A great read and eye-opening look into the tech world. As an engineer (retired) I can say that the most fun I had was working for small companies (or small divisions) while larger ones were more stressful with unrealistic goals. I was told that I should work more hours but hey you are paying me for my knowledge, not to work for free (which is what salaried positions are all about). Really, all workers should be hourly paid which would solve a lot of problems. All engineers in one large computer company I worked for were told they had to invent something and submit for a patent even if your job didn't involve any design (crazy). In another company, I was placed in software development for telecom equipment when I had never worked in that area and never used the Pascal programming language. This was an obvious ploy to get me and others to quit. Read Lab Rats and ask employees (not managers) in an interview about their treatment.
Profile Image for Adam.
295 reviews17 followers
March 31, 2019
Dan Lyons previous book “Disrupted” ranks as one of my all time favorites. It’s a look into startup culture and it’s oddities. Lab Rats picks up on that with an exploration into many other companies that are all imitating and following the “startup feel” - for better or for worse.

Nearly everything mentioned gave me a hint of stress hearing about, as many were part of workplaces I was a part of (and many things that I as a manager did). As a small example, this book mentions personality tests, open offices, ping pong tables, “we are a family” mentality, burn out culture and even a mention of Domo, a company just around the corner from me that is worth billions but operates at a loss.

One theme that stands out from this book is how all these “companies for millennials” aren’t actually making millennials any happier. The key to workplace happiness and even productivity is safety, something that includes physical safety, wellbeing of the company, of your job and gives room to experiment and grow. I feel like the times I’ve been most productive in a role have been when I’ve felt safe in this way as well. Lyons includes some recommendations on how we can move more companies to grow this in their cultures.
Profile Image for L.
554 reviews36 followers
December 26, 2020
What a book. Having worked at numerous Agile companies and a startup like one, it's enlightening to contemplate the other side of the coin. Looking at people like machines and churning out change after change impedes true progress and imparts more stress and uncertainty. Agile has been adopted and while it may be true that empirical evidence is not there, there are quite aspirational principles that exist. Having no background in holacracy, I can't comment there.

I do enjoy how at the end of the book, there's a return to true stakeholder focused organization rather than shareholder focused startups. The whole get funding, get rich and the get out philosophy has encouraged young business talent to focus on what makes the most money rather than the most sustainable, long lasting and socially beneficial business. There's a great opportunity for the profit and non-profit to learn from each other.

Yes, sometimes Lyons seems more or less ranting but it's casting light of what has been romanticized and falsely portrayed area of business that has significant impact cross industries and cross business. While things can look bleak, I have hope that the shift to heart and people centered organizations will grow.
1,489 reviews24 followers
November 11, 2018
Dan Lyons had cracked me up with his book "Busted" and this follow-up didn't disappoint. Whereas "Busted" was a personal memoir of his own experiences in a marketing start-up, this book is more of a survey of the various management techniques that are currently in vogue. It's easy to laugh at some of the sillier philosophies described in the book, but underneath, there is the very serious question of how corporate culture has become so cut-throat in the last 20-30 years. Instead of aiming for life-long employment, now companies are openly talking about having employees have "tours of duty" before they are ruthlessly cut. What's interesting to me, is that the Millennials, who I had assumed were in favor of this type of thing, are actually kept in a constant state of anxiety by this. Most of these approaches have come from Silicon Valley, and as Dan Lyons points out, perhaps it's not from Uber or even Apple or Google that companies should take their cue about how to treat their employees.

Altogether a sobering book, and a good antidote to most of the current business bestsellers. And let's not forget that despite the serious subject matter, the book is often very funny.
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