Arts & Entrepreneurship: things we've learned along the way... & a few things we didn't know we didn't know
Lesson 1: Separate Circles
A close friend and astute businessman once advised me to “keep the circles separate.”
He meant: communicate with transparency and create clear distinctions and boundaries so that everyone is respected, protected, behavior is accounted for, and work done is credited to those who put in the time and vision. Because… if relationships change, it’s easier to step away from or dissolve.
Though my friend was specifically talking about creating a company structure, his advice seems prudent in any professional circumstance. Though it may sound pessimistic, none of us knows the future of any relationship.
It reminds me of people at a dog park, assuming their beloved pup will act with the exact same nature in every possible circumstance. And when that is clearly not the case, how genuinely confused they are.
Or of people who make a choice to do something in a particular way and then say, I never do that. I'm not that kind of person. It was so out of character. But they did. And so they are. And now it is.
In brief - there is a wildness to all sentient beings and we cannot say what we or someone else will or ought to do in any given situation until actual circumstances arise and decisions need to be made. It's kind of crazy that personal and professional contracts don't always take this into consideration.
As someone who went from an academic structure into the world of small business, this metaphor of circles was most excellent advice. It has served me well, and has kept me somewhat protected from getting dragged into someone else’s vitriolic divorce. Somewhat…
Here's an example of what can happen when you don't have separate circles:
Brian’s former company, without notice, abruptly shut down the email address he’s used for over 20 years. It is a company’s prerogative to no longer allow a former employee/owner use of a company handle. We all know this. While it’s best practice and common courtesy to alert someone to a timeframe in which they will no longer have access to their email account (so addresses may be forwarded, files shifted, etc.) it is not required by law.
So, what they did was legal. It’s also legal for them to troll through 20 years of personal and professional emails and use this information how they will. Because it’s connected to the company address.
In digging a bit deeper (i.e. in consultation with an IP lawyer from Seattle) we found out the company can keep Brian's old email address live, and monitor it, without letting the public know they are doing so. However, it would be actionable if the company misled the public by posting this email address or responding, assuming Brian's identity.
My ‘crackliness’ over this – which is a very-Brian way of saying my utmost anger over the mal-intent of this purposeful action – is not because there is anything that might be suspect in his email account, but that when we first met, we exchanged several personal emails that are now in the hands of someone else. And there’s nothing I can do about it. I'm not embarrassed, just annoyed.
In the past few years, there has been ample media coverage regarding the impropriety of government officials mixing business and personal emails/texts/phone calls on various electronic devices. And when I worked within a university, separation of personal and school-related communication was always made quite clear. These are rules I'm theoretically aware of, but honestly, don't think too much about because a) I don't tend to put particular things in writing and b) Brian was co-owner of the company, so we assumed there were clear boundaries. And the boundaries were clear. Until there was a nasty divorce. However, to take our share of responsibility, Brian and I were careless in our assumptions and usage. A company address is a company address. Even if you're the owner. Because, if the company changes hands...
Even as I write this, there is a mix of personal and professional emails in my own company email account. I am sole owner of Flying Edna, LLC and consider my relationship with Brian (who is an employee) to be healthy, sane, and quite joyful. You never think something like this will happen when things are going well...
Many of you are probably well aware of all this, unerring in your adherence to rules of electronic device usage laid out by the company you work with/for/own.
For those of you who are not... inform yourselves of the expectations and intent of the company. My intent of sharing this is to remind us all:
1. Never assume you know the entirety of someone, including yourself (or your dog) because circumstances change.
2. Keep your circles separate.
always in motion,
p.s. the ONLY email address that goes directly to Brian, (without filter), the one he will personally respond to is: firstname.lastname@example.org
you can also reach him directly via email@example.com (we both read these emails)
p.p. s. Here are a few articles related to company monitoring of electronic devices, if you'd like to read further: