Nov 22, 2022

Twitter Quitter: “My Friends Are Gone”

Twitter Quitter: “My Friends Are Gone”

Twitter Quitter: “My Friends Are Gone”

Nathan King

Twitter engineer Peter Clowes had seen enough after Elon Musk's first 30 days. "My friends are gone, the vision is murky, there is a storm coming, and no financial upside," he said. He quit. He had planned to stay, even as uncertainty grew over the prior 7 months:

He had endured prolonged public turmoil, leadership turnover, massive layoffs, and intense speculation about what Twitter would do, but Musk's challenge to the remaining employees to work "at high intensity" or leave proved too much.

He explained,

I just want to know what I am signing up for (besides pain).

His experience zeroes in on 3 critical factors to success at work:

  • Friends at work

  • Vision

  • Money

Friends at Work Are Critical to Job Satisfaction

For those of us who have never endured combat, certainly one of the most fascinating "work environments" is the battlefield. The work takes on a horror unimaginable to those who haven't experienced it. A day at the "office" can result in the death of a friend or your own demise.

What keeps people going back to that? In War, Sebastian Junger writes of a US Army study of motivation in combat:

According to [the research], the primary motivation in combat (other than “ending the task”—which meant they all could go home) was “solidarity with the group.” That far outweighed self-preservation or idealism as a motivator.

In the battlefield "work environment," what keeps "employees" motivated and "engaged" and what helps "employee retention" is the love they experience for one another.

Relating this back to Twitter, with so many friends instantly gone, an enormous reason for staying is removed from the equation.

In Peter's department, 3 of 75 engineers remained. The battle was no longer worth it.

A Compelling Company Vision Makes Hard Times Worth Enduring

When the confusion and difficulties of a fast-moving environment arise, people need to see the destination. It needs to be viscerally visible, almost like it can be touched.

A good example comes from Charles de Gaulle, who led France from out of the ashes of World War II. He began leading the nation in exile while it was occupied by Germany. When he reflected on his extraordinary career (which is too long to do justice to here) late in life, he described what makes it possible to achieve great things. I will "translate" his reflection to more closely suit the organizational environment:

The success of an organization comes from the belief of its leadership, and the belief leadership inspires in employees and customers, that it will prevail when there is danger [1].

At Twitter, there was massive change. Half the people were let go, the remaining are hearing rumors, are challenged by the CEO that difficult times are ahead, that there is little hope.

Vision grants hope. Vision inspires a picture of what makes the fight worth it.

Money Helps During Challenging Times, but Not Exclusively

Money is crucial to any paid endeavor. What is striking here is its relative importance in comparison to vision and friendship. People often mistakenly pursue new jobs exclusively for the goal of making more money, thinking of the possibilities it will unlock. Money is a part of the equation, not the total equation.

Questions for Reflection:

If you are a leader (company or department level):

  1. are you creating an environment where people can build relationships with each other?

  2. What vision are you describing? How often are you sharing it, and with whom?

As an employee:

  1. what are you doing building friendships with those around you?

  2. What vision has your leadership set for your company (or department)? How can you help them clarify it?


[1] De Gaulle’s actual quote is from his Memoirs of Hope: Renewal and Endeavor, as quoted in Leadership, by Henry Kissinger:

“The legitimacy of a governing power derives from its conviction, and the conviction it inspires, that it embodies national unity and continuity when the country is in danger."




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