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Shared Values
01.17.12

Someone told me something a few months ago and my first thought when I read it was, "That's a crazy way to do business." My instincts told me one thing -- and after the situation developed a little more, my instincts proved me correct. The caveat I should throw in in all this, is that within this particular industry, this individual is both more experienced and better known than I. (on an order of magnitude) Now, this post isn't about me being right and this other person being wrong. Instead, it's more about instincts and shared values.

When you work in a company, there's a pretty strict hierarchy. You report to someone who reports to someone who reports to someone (and depending on the company and your position within it -- there may be more or less layers between you and the CEO.) It's then natural to get caught up in your "career" and how you're doing in terms of both your title and relative standing in the company. It's not always true -- but the relative distance you are from the CEO is often a way one mentally constrains oneself in terms of performance or even future performance. There's talk about your career path, how to "grow" (i.e. you're not good enough currently and the people above you will teach you how to get better), etc. In the right hands, it's mentorship and a smart way to teach people and open up new opportunities. In the wrong hands, you're being told this by idiots. 

I like to talk about the entrepreneurs that emerged from Google -- because if you took a poll of the various leaders within Google, I'm pretty sure that most of the most successful entrepreneurs would not have filtered to the top of the list. Instead, I'm sure they would've identified quite a number of both senior leaders and promising up and comers -- those who were among the more favored, as the ones most likely to succeed. What's different though -- is life isn't a committee of the in crowd. In the outside world -- life is a market. It's a place where people can rise or fall (often) based mainly on their talents. Ev Williams, who at the time had already co-founded Blooger, was buried at Google. He left and founded Twiter. Dennis Crowley, despite Google buying something very similar in Dodgeball, could not get Google management to pay attention to it. He left and founded Foursquare. Two of the hottest startups today -- Pinterest and Instagram, came from ex-Googlers, who would not have been at the top of internal lists as most likely to found a startup like Pinterest or Instagram. 

My first point here is very simple. Powerful and successful people don't always know what's right. There's a fallacy that exists in the world where once you're successful -- it's presumed it's because you know what you're doing. Both that person thinks so and the world thinks so. Witness the number of failed second acts. Sometimes they fail for reasons outside of their control -- but often they fail for a simple reason, the reason they did well in the first place was because they got lucky, not because they were good. The people who succeed over and over and over again -- well, now you have a pattern. 

The second point is over this concept of shared values. There are people in this world who think on a similar wave length -- a lot of it is how you treat other people, but some of it is also how you think and see the world. How you do business and your mentality around it. It's being able to have a meeting with someone -- take a single issue, and breaking it down and coming to similar conclusions. This isn't surrounding yourself with yes men or only people you agree with. This is someone that you share values with. Last year, I met someone who is both particularly well known and powerful in his field. A group of us were walking out to get dinner and he did something slightly unexpected. He went out of his way to hold the door for a doorman who was bringing in some packages. Out of his way. I immediately took a liking to him. Here's a person who probably has people kissing up to him all day. People who want things from him. People telling him how smart or how good he is -- and having it reinforced by the nature of his position. But with that small act, I immediately thought to myself that this person was probably, at his core -- someone that I would like and respect because if you care for people you don't know and people who can't "help" you in your career or otherwise -- well, that's a check mark in my book.

You don't have to have shared values with someone to be able to work with or do business with that person. It just makes it more difficult when you don't. That's probably an area I'm most torn about -- because there are so few people in the world where you go, "Yeah, I love doing business with this person." And I would argue that I'm someone that does business with a lot of people. Earlier today, I met up with a friend who effusively thanked me for putting them in touch with a particular contractor. He was saying how this contractor was competent, nice, punctual, responsive, etc. Then we said, "Isn't it strange that those attributes aren't the minimum bar, but the pinnacle?" They're hard to find though -- so when you find them, you hold onto them for dear life.

Before I conclude here though, I want to get back to the fallacy of success. That fallacy is so tricky because when you get a piece of advice from a successful person -- that's automatically filtered through the idea of, "You should listen to this because they're further along than you are therefore they must be right." That's not right. But more importantly, always listening to someone else is not the way to get better -- that's the way to always needing to listen to someone else. The core is having your own opinions and sharpening it so that you can say, "That's probably crazy." and following your instincts.

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