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Context: I have been at a startup for a few years now. I worked on an internal product that filled a need for the company during our first couple of years but there were a number of reliability problems with it. We made a small number of units (I hand made about half of them personally) that were used over the years by our company. One of the executives on the team had to deal with the reliability problems that my execution of this product was causing both personally and via their team.

Situation: Recently, this executive is leaving the company. Their direct reports are planning as part of their going out party, a ceremony where they will destroy (sledgehammer or some other physical means) one of the obsoleted units that my team had made. My entire team is still in the organization and this product was a significant if not primary contribution of a number of us to our business and is in active use today with a significant increase in quality from where we started.

My thoughts: I am mostly unsure of how to deal with this situation and if there's anything I should do. I am also trying to not take this personally but I definitely think there is some aspect of that factoring into how I'm feeling/thinking about this. I'm definitely sympathetic to the frustrations that their team experienced when having to deal with an unreliable product to use but am still unsure if this seems to be pushing the limits of being respectful of my team and our work.

Question: Is this an appropriate activity for an office event?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Jan 30 at 12:31
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Trashing a product in front of others sends a message of disrespect to the creators of said product. This may not be the intended message, but it is one of the ones being communicated.

As with any creative endeavor the product represents the time, effort, and expertise that was put into it. Ripping a carefully crafted painting to bits and calling it "trash" in front of others, especially in the artists presence, would be disrespectful to that artist. Doing the same with the product in question sends a similar message.

It also ignores that the legacy product was contribution and stepping stone for the successor product.

Apparently, according to comments, some company cultures will accept such behavior. The question is not if it will be considered acceptable. If this is a form of disrespect, then it may well be "accepted" behavior, but inappropriate nonetheless.

If it was paid work for another company, and the degree of the product's success makes no difference. The company has all rights over the product, but what is being disrespected is your effort, not the product itself.

No, "trashing" the efforts of other employees as part of a celebratory event is not appropriate.

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    While I wrote this post it occurred to me that this symbolic language of destroying something is understood trans-culturally. In extreme cases, ripping a picture of somebody to pieces, burning a flag, smashing a particular buildings windows, etc... You don't need to speak the language, but you know what it means. – ig-dev Jan 30 at 8:04
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    Yeah, it is not so much the destruction but the celebration of that destruction that sends the message and "cheering enthousiastically" is the most trans-cultural thing in human experience. – Borgh Jan 30 at 8:32
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    There are many classic, but unsuccessful airplanes. It is part of the culture of the field. Destroying them wilfully is akin to vandalism. That being said, if there are other samples of the device which can be put in the company vitrine, this may not be a hill worth dying on. – Captain Emacs Jan 30 at 10:45
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Question: Is this an appropriate activity for an office event?

Not in my experience. Though, some comments mention "culture", I have never seen or heard something like this. And even if it is culture, it has to evolve and change if it is offensive or hurtful to someone. In this case, clearly it is.

You should simply express your opinion to whoever is "event manager" or send an email to entire team, something like:

Hey Team: I worked on this product for several years and I along with my team would like to preserve it for nostalgic/sentimental/emotional reasons (or whatever your actual reasons are). Can we please not destroy it during the farewell and do something else instead? May be destroy another dummy?

If they ignore you, you do not have to fight back but you know you at least tried!

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    Downvoter: why? This is a perfectly reasonable ask. Destroying a thing the company worked on is not just venting, it's a mark of disrespect to those who worked on it and a failure to appreciate that first attempts are often unpolished but fulfil a need. – Julia Hayward Jan 30 at 7:17
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When we put effort into anything in life, we feel an attachment to it. This is natural - you've invested time, energy, thought, and emotion into this product. You said yourself that you built several units with your own hands. Of course it's natural to feel that this product is an extension of who you are as an individual. In a sense, it's natural to take offence to someone else wanting to destroy that product. Destroying it is the ultimate form of rejection, and it's hard to not take that rejection as a rejection of yourself.

However, there is another viewpoint which may be helpful. This viewpoint is built on the simple fact that it is not literally you that is being destroyed or rejected, it is an inanimate object. Yes, you may have built that object with your own two hands, and you may feel that it is an extension of you, but other way to see it is that the object was simply something that you had created, at a point in time in the past, based on your skills, knowledge, and working environment at that time. Are you still that old person? Or have you grown and developed since then? Maybe you've even grown and developed as a result of the failures and frustrations surrounding the older version of this product?

Who are you today? What is your current identity? If you had set about making that product right now, I'd be willing to bet that your new version would be significantly better than your old version. You basically indicated that this is the case. You've learned from your failures. It may be helpful to consider: be willing to let go of who you used to be as you embrace a newer, better version of yourself.

One of my hobbies is building musical instruments. Sometimes, when new builders create their first guitar or an experienced builder tries a different style of construction, it's fraught with issues - and may just be literally unplayable to the point that it doesn't really function as a musical instrument. Browsing online forums dedicated to guitar building shows the wide range of responses builders have to their failures. Some people try to hide or cover up their mistakes. Other people hang the unplayable instrument up in their workshop as a "reminder" of where they've come from - a sort of tribute to how much they've changed since then, as they can compare new instruments to their older failed instrument and see the progress they've made. Other people joyfully smash it and throw it into their fireplace and post a video of the burning wood! These people often talk about how satisfying it is to "let go" of a poor product as a way of moving past it.

Of course, this is all rather personal, which makes your question very difficult to answer objectively. You're certainly allowed to feel hurt by what has been proposed, and if you do feel hurt, it would make sense to object to it, or suggest alternatives (maybe the party can feature the new version and celebrate how good it is, rather than focus on destroying the older, bad version). It doesn't really matter what's "typical," what matters is respecting your own feelings. Especially in a workplace, it could be easily interpreted as "unprofessional" to destroy anything.

But, it may also be worth considering how you may be able to see this as a growth opportunity instead of a hurtful act.

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I agree with the other answers that destroying a product like that shows disrespect for the effort that went into it, and the needs that it fulfilled while it was in use (it did have some use, apparently).

It makes sense that you find that hurtful. At the same time, I find it helps to understand the motivation of those who want to destroy it: Maybe it caused them frustration, maybe they secretly wished to destroy it before - or maybe they just wanted to have some memorable event for the goodbye party.

So maybe you can reach a compromise with that team: Propose some other way of celebrating the goodbye and the decommissioning of the product.


For example, you could stage a "goodbye party" for the product, where someone holds a short speech recalling the good and bad times you had with it, and then you all put it into a box, slap on a lable reading "retirement home for obsolete products", and put it away.

The details are just to give you an idea, of course - the point is to satisfy both the desire for a sendoff event, and the desire for the sendoff to be respectful.

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Real innovators will have several of these "successful failures" over their careers. I'm guessing this product was also a source of frustration to your team, not just to the executive supporting it. When you feel that frustration, it's not directed toward your team, is it? This exercise is about venting that frustration, not about minimizing the contribution of your team.

There are a few products I've invented or contributed heavily to that I would love to take out and beat with a sledgehammer and replace with something better, but I can't because 1) it's software and 2) it works despite the flaws. I take pride in knowing I made something others couldn't that is not easily replaced, even as I wish it could be easily replaced. That's the nature of working within constraints.

In other words, I personally would tell them tongue in cheek that I would feel disrespected if I wasn't allowed to take a couple swings.

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Have you watched the movie Office Space? Here is the clip that shows the destruction of the printer.

Along similar lines of the movie, couldn't you just outfit the departing guy with a flamethrower and have a couple of cardboard targets for him on the lawn of your company?

  • A garden backpack flamethrower - retail price: $256
  • (optional) A fireproof aluminium full body suit - retail price: $169.99
  • boring company (not a) flamethrower - this would have been my first suggestion except for the fact that they're now double or quadruple the original retail price on eBay.

Also, ask yourself.

What were the problems of the product? Were they Bluetooth bugs? Wifi bugs? Delays from the manufacturer? If so, which manufacturer? If you could find an external entity to be the target of their frustration, that would be good.

Then instead of the flamethrower idea, you could just buy some old used electronic object that bears the brand name/logo of that manufacturer/organization and your colleagues could use their sledgehammer/baseball bat on that object instead (just don't forget to bring some eye protection and a boombox with the music of the printer scene playing at full blast).

If those suggestions fail, then I'd suggest you take out your team on a team-building activity on the day of the event. After all, if a non-team member was about to destroy an object my team helped create, I wouldn't want to be there and I wouldn't want my team to be there either.

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Sorry for hearing this.

I can perfectly understand your situation and feel your sadness.

I think there's nothing (legally) that could be done. However, You should plan a meeting with your team and explain the importance that this product had to the company, explain that with errors we learn to do best products.

And don't let yourself down, keep doing your work the best way you can.

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