Sebastian Thrun, the co-founder of Google X, the technology company’s semi-secret moonshot factory, has used his creativity to think of Google Street View and Waymo. As an artificial intelligence scientist and entrepreneur, Thrun is considered a pioneer of autonomous driving who believes we will one day commute to work in flying cars. As he recently told a TechCrunch audience earlier this month, “I can’t envision a future of highways [and being] stuck in cars. I envision a [future] where you hop in a thing, go in the air, and fly in a straight line.”
With that kind of visionary, radical thinking, you may not be surprised that he takes the same approach to management. Thrun recently explained his creative approach to firing someone while (supposedly) keeping their dignity intact.
Thrun explains his firing philosophy as “the liberation of individuals from the burden of having to work under me,” as he put it in a LinkedIn post. He calls it Project Freedom because he believes his foremost duty as a manager is to build people up and help them live to their full potential. That means thinking of tactful ways to shove you out the door, so you can become your best self when it’s clear that won’t be happening on his team.
Project Freedom: no f-words, just liberation
Here’s how you get liberated, according to Thrun. First, Thrun decides if you’re need of deliverance: “would the individual perhaps be better off outside my company?” If Thrun believes you would be better off elsewhere, he considers it his duty “to assist the individual to transition to a better life – no matter how talented he is, and how much sweat went into his recruitment.”
Once you’ve been selected for freedom, Thrun will meet with you privately.
“I sit down with the individual in a confidential meeting, and assign him only a singular task: to find himself a new job. Technically, I am firing him. But I don’t use the f-word. After all, it’s not necessarily his fault that things aren’t working out,” he said. “A work environment is comprised of many individuals, and fault almost always goes multiple ways. What matters is that things aren’t working out. And by keeping the act of liberation confidential, I allow the individual to save face. He announces his choice to departure at his own terms.”
Thrun did not mention what happens if people choose not to be liberated or what happens when the long road to freedom takes too long for his employees to find. What he did note is that employees are “often” thankful for the chance to save face and for the helping hand.
Thrun said Project Freedom was inspired by the 2005 commencement speech Apple CEO Steve Jobs gave where he told Stanford students that the “only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.”
What Thrun took away from Jobs’s speech is that our most precious resource in life is time, and that our united goal should be to make the most of it.
“In working with me, my people relinquish their most precious resource in exchange for impact, fulfillment, and perhaps monetary compensation. It is in part my responsibility to ensure their time is well spent,” he said.
Thrun said that too few managers understand the art of letting go, allowing guilt and nerves to stand in the way. By liberating employees from the shackles of jobs they’re unsuited for, Thrun wants to show you that there’s a life beyond this one role and he’ll help you find it.