Chapter News

Greater Seattle Chapter

by Lauren Vignec

Dear Lauren,
Soon you will “meet” Taylor Larimore online, and he will give you two of the best pieces of advice you will ever receive. Unfortunately, you are not going to listen. This letter will never be read by you, since it cannot go back in time. But I wish it could.

Here is what Taylor will tell you. First, “It’s better to be nice than it is to be right.” And second, “The most important thing you can do is to try your best.” Now by the time you read his advice you will have already come to greatly respect this man. However, that respect isn’t going to be enough to cause you to take him seriously. You are going to think his advice is corny and naive–touching but inconsequential. If only you could understand…

Better to be nice than to be right.

You’ve been indoctrinated by your education system to believe that having the right answers is important, and even worse, that it is really important to demonstrate to others that you have the right answers. Oh what a brutal awakening the real world has in store for you.

First, there are no right answers. More precisely, there are no right answers to any questions that actually matter. Only in pure mathematics do problems have solutions. In the real world there are tradeoffs, not solutions.

Second, even if you have a better answer, when you “demonstrate” that answer to others they don’t see your demonstration as being about the question and answer, problem and tradeoff. They see your demonstration as being about yourself. They feel that you are demonstrating your personal superiority to them, not the superiority of your idea or plan. As a result, they will simply get angry. And the better your idea, plan or answer, the more angry they will get.

So two things will happen. First, you’re going to fail over and over again. But you already know how to deal with failure, as you’ve experienced plenty of it. The more painful thing for you is that the group will fail too. Why? Because your ideas often really are good. In fact, they are sometimes brilliant. But you are making people furious, so they will sometimes be driven to do the opposite of what you propose. Not only will you fail, the group will as well.

Now in addition to the indoctrination you received in school, you have also been indoctrinated by the media. You believe that it’s important to “stand up for your beliefs” and so on. It is, in the public realm. But in your interpersonal relationships “being right” has little to do with standing up for the oppressed (or whatever). It’s really just about asserting dominance, and not terribly different from when rams butt heads with each other. And while there are limited situations where you really will need to fight someone down, in most cases that kind of blunt dominance just doesn’t work. If you really care about getting something done, you need to learn to be nice. You need to learn to let other people believe that they are the ones who came up with the idea, not you.

Yeah, I know. That seems insanely complex, doesn’t it? Well, you’re the one who thinks you are smart. Figure it out.

Oh and one more thing. This is something that you need to internalize with all your heart and soul. Never get involved in a personal conflict between two other adults. It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or who’s right. Stay out of it. And tell your friends to stay out of conflicts between you and others too. Feel free to offer help any time one of your friends seems to have hit rock bottom. That’s different. But when the two sides in a conflict form, do like Mike Jackson and Beat It. (And by the way, you will learn that genuine conflicts only have two sides. You don’t get to be the rational third side. Forget it.)

Try your best

Now that sounds like some corny advice, doesn’t it? And you’ll ignore it, despite the fact that it will be given to you by one of the most successful people you will ever know. But you’re going to tell yourself, “He’s not really serious.”

Here is what you are going to learn when you start your own business. Within reason, your clients realize that you are going to make mistakes. They won’t quit you for that reason. They absolutely will quit you, though, if you take too long to respond to an email. (And in some cases, “too long” means more than an hour.) And they will never even work with you in the first place if they feel that you are not listening, not trying to understand where they are coming from.

Again, you’ve been indoctrinated by your education system to believe that making mistakes on tests or in presentations is a mark of failure. And you’ve been indoctrinated by movies to believe that heroes always successfully protect their own egos. You know what? The sooner you give up those fantasies the happier and more successful you are going to be.

And you know what the worst thing is about this indoctrination by movies and school? You think of yourself as being worldly and street smart, and you think Taylor’s advice about being nice is unrealistic. But your ideas about reality come from watching fantasies and sitting in class! Stop letting fantasies rule your decision making. Instead of fantasizing, listen to those who have direct experience. Everyone has blind spots and limitations, but direct experience is still more trustworthy than anything else out there. When people with experience talk, listen.