A few days ago I wrote: Mozilla is messy. For better and for worse, the week’s events showed how true that is.
Looking back at the past week, this also comes to mind: Mozilla is human. In all the best and worst ways. With all the struggle and all the inspiration. Mozilla is very very human.
On the inspiration part, I need to say: Brendan Eich is one of the most inspiring humans that I have ever met. He is a true hero for many of us. He invented a programming language that is the heart and soul of the most open communications system the world has ever known. He led a band of brilliant engineers and activists who freed the internet from the grip of Microsoft. And, one-on-one, in his odd and brilliant ways, he helped and advised so many of us as we put our own hearts and souls into building Mozilla and building the web. I was truly excited to see Brendan step into the role of CEO two weeks ago. And, today, I am equally sad.
It’s important to remember that all heroes are also human. They struggle. And they often have flaws. Brendan’s biggest flaw, IMHO, was his inability to connect and empathize with people. I’ve seen and felt that over the years, finding Bredan brilliant, but distant. And you certainly saw it this past week, as many calm and reasonable people said “Brendan, I want you to lead Mozilla. But I also want you to feel my pain.” Brendan didn’t need to change his mind on Proposition 8 to get out of the crisis of the past week. He simply needed to project and communicate empathy. His failure to do so proved to be his fatal flaw as CEO.
I would argue that Mozilla is filled with heroes. Thousands of them. All of them very human, just like Brendan. In the past week, I’ve spent every waking hour with these heroes. And I have watched them struggle. I’ve watched Mitchell struggle with how to protect the soul and spirit of a global community that is filled with passion, dreams, tensions and contradictions. I’ve watched the boards struggle with how to govern something that is at once a global social movement, a valuable consumer brand and a company based in the State of California. I have watched dozens and dozens of Mozillians reflect — and sometimes lash out — as they struggle to figure out what it means to be an individual contributor or leader inside this complex organism. And I myself have struggled with how to help Mozillians sort through all this complexity and messiness. Being human is messy. That is Mozilla.
As I look at the world’s reaction to all this, I want to clarify two things:
1. Brendan Eich was not fired. He struggled to connect and empathize with people who both respect him and felt hurt. He also got beat up. We all tried to protect him and help him get around these challenges until the very last hours. But, ultimately, I think Brendan found it impossible to lead under these circumstances. It was his choice to step down. And, frankly, I don’t blame him. I would have done the same.
2. This story is actually not about Brendan Eich. Of course, the critics and the media have made this a story about Brendan and his beliefs. But, as someone intimately involved in the evens of the past week, I would say in earnest: this is a story about Mozilla finding its soul and its spirit again. Over the past three years, we’ve become better at being A Company. I would argue we’ve also become worse at being Mozilla. We’ve become worse at caring for each other. Worse at holding the space for difference. Worse at working in the open. And worse at creating the space where we all can lead. These are the things that make Mozilla Mozilla. And they are the things we did not have enough of to properly find our way out of the crisis of the past two weeks.
Before getting into this kerfuffle, we were working on the right things. We were building a phone that will truly bring the web into the hands and the pockets of the world. We were teaching the world how the web works. And we were standing up against those who want to break the web or turn into a way to watch what each of us do every day. Those are still the things we need to be doing. And we need to start doing them again on Monday.
What we also need to do is start a process of rebirth and renewal. We need to find our soul and our spirit. The good news: Mozillians know how to do this. We know how to make a phoenix rise from the ashes. That is what we must now do.