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Upcoming book by Bob Sutton - "The No Assholes Rule"

I have just enjoyed my way through an advance reading copy of Bob Sutton's upcoming book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't.  (It won't be released until February, 2007, but you can preorder it now.  I'll post this review again when we get closer to its release date.)

On a second season episode of Fox TV's "House" series, the husband of a patient was talking with one of the junior doctors:

Husband:  "I assume that House is a great doctor."

Dr. Chase:  "Why would you assume that?"

Husband:  "Because when you're that big a jerk, you're either great or unemployed."

In his upcoming book, Sutton sets out to help us change this unfortunate fact of organizational life.  And I think he largely succeeds.

Earlier this year, Sutton worried aloud whether this book was too much "sizzle" and not enough "substance."  For my money, it has plenty of both.  Yes, it has a titillating title and a cute cover.  But it is built on a strong foundation of scientific evidence, as are all of his books.

The book is about assholes:  who they are, the damage they cause, how to avoid being one yourself, how to avoid being hurt by one, and how to get them out of your organization and keep them out.

Assholes are people who consistently make others, especially those with lower power and prestige, feel lousy about themselves.  We have all encountered them.  Some of us probably suffer the disease ourselves.  (Sutton offers a self-assessment for this possibility, but suggests you ask others to answer the questions about you.)

Because of the organization of the book, it takes a bit of work to reach the conclusion that assholes do more harm than good.  An early chapter nicely lays out the evidence of the harm these folks cause to organizations, individuals and to themselves.  Then, more than 100 pages later, Sutton reluctantly drops in a chapter on the virtues of assholes.  I would have preferred to see both the pros and the cons argued in one early chapter, with a clear conclusion at the end of it.  My suggestion is to read the two chapters together, before moving on to what you can do about these folks.

Assuming we all agree that fewer assholes are better, Sutton gives us a great set of tools for reducing their numbers.  He spends fully half the book on how to implement the "No Assholes" rule, how to keep from being one yourself, and how to cope if "they" - and not "the rule" - rule.  As with all his previous books, he has given me a long list of things to ponder and things to do.

I am left with one bit of confusion, though.  While most of the book is focused on entirely eliminating assholes from our midst, Sutton presents some data that suggest keeping one of them around might be even more effective than none.  So, is it one or none?  See what you think after reading the evidence.  For beginners, I'm convinced that zero is the goal to shoot for.  Once you and your colleagues are experienced at the "No Asshole" rule, perhaps you can try the more advanced "Lone Asshole" rule.

That's just a minor quibble, though.  I like the way Sutton thinks, I like the way he writes, I like his evidence-based view of the world and I loved this book.  When it comes out, buy it.  I guarantee you will use it.

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