What Happens When You Neglect Reflection?

Some lessons we can learn from a crisis at one of YouTube's biggest tech channels.

What Happens When You Neglect Reflection?
Linus Sebastian, founder and Chief Vision Officer at Linus Media Group. Screenshot: YouTube

Do you check YouTube for reviews before you buy a tech gadget? If yes, the probability is high that you've stumbled upon a video by Linus Media Group.

Linus Media Group (LMG), a Canadian company founded by Linus Sebastian, runs multiple channels like Linus Tech Tips, TechLinked, or MacAddress. Their reach is enormous: Their main channel, Linus Tech Tips, has over 10 million subscribers. Overall, the company racked up billions of views.

They are a significant influence in the tech space. And they found themselves suddenly in a lot of trouble. In the following post, I will briefly summarise what happened and follow up with some lessons we can take away from LMG's example.

Warning Signs

Shortly before all hell broke loose at LMG, I watched a video called «What's It Like to Work For Linus?». My inner alarms immediately went off. A fraction of the more than 100 employees were featured; however, their statements were jarring. They unanimously complained about the workload and the quantity-over-quality-mentality. Some even stated that they are rarely proud of a project.

On the one hand, kudos to LMG for uploading such self-critical content. Imagine a traditional media company would ever do that. On the other hand, these warning signs would soon develop into a full-blown crisis.

The Crisis

It all started when a fellow tech YouTuber, GamersNexus, known for his meticulous approach, laid bare the company's shortcomings, constant mistakes, and several other critical behaviours. The backlash towards LMG was severe; the first response was emotional and destructive, then coordinated and corporate-worthy.

As an immediate action, LMG stopped all publishing for over a week to focus on reflection, new processes, and other adjustments. They now transparently communicated all they have worked on in the publishing hiatus.

I must also mention that a former employee has reported sexual harassment and general sexist behaviour at LMG. The company has responded by starting an external investigation into the allegations. There has not yet been an update.

What Can We Learn From This Story?

Time will tell whether the guardrails and processes that LMG has introduced will improve its work. However, there are already essential takeaways from this significant incident—even without having a deeper insight into the company's inner workings.

I. Reflection is essential

The team's statements in the video indicate a severe lack of opportunity for retrospectives and reflections. The productivity rush became too overwhelming as the company grew from a few dozen employees to a big corporation. Significantly, when scaling up, there always needs to be moments of pause to ask critical questions:

  • Are we satisfied with the quality of our product?
  • What are the employee's concerns?
  • Where do our processes and guidelines fall short?

II. Invest in Culture

The culture is the foundation of a company's resilience and sustainable success. Culture enables or prevents toxicity and psychological safety, and it has a significant impact on employee engagement, productivity, and innovation.

LMG, as part of the creator economy, is highly susceptible to getting driven by arbitrary numbers, likes, views, and upload schedules. It can create an unhealthy hustle culture that not only prevents reflection but incentives something Simon Sinek calls «ethical fading».

Ultimately, the leadership has a critical role in shaping a trusting culture and has to collaborate with the team to set realistic goals that address quality and business viability.

III. Communication is critical

Communication, at least from an outside perspective, seems to be an issue at LMG. The first response was highly emotional and dismissive of the criticism. Further examples of such external communication can be found on numerous occasions.

Both the examples of external communication and the suggestion that internal concerns, although publicly stated by employees, were not heard or not addressed quickly enough indicate problems in this area.

Communication, followed by proper action, is essential in building trust, the most valuable currency any media outlet has: Say what you do and do what you say.

As a regular viewer of LMG's content, I hope they can resolve the issues. But for the most part, it is fascinating to dive into their specific example as they display classic corporate behaviour alongside more transparency often found in the so-called «new media industry». LMG's statements and plans might be polished and curated, but it's a rare case that a company pulls back the curtain as far.

Ultimately, the crisis at LMG proves that cultural issues are not only common at old corporations, but they also plague the new generations of organisations.

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