Because or despite?

long scary nails2Ah, the power of ego. It can make people do (and think) outrageous things in business.

Consider the blowhard who brags about his success, attributing it to some off-the-wall notion that runs contrary to conventional wisdom … precisely because it runs contrary to conventional wisdom. It’s not an expression of creativity, but rather a misguided assignment of cause and effect. The idea that the presence of two factors assumes one to be the result of the other.

For example:

“I’m CEO of a bussiness. I’m richer than you cuz I don’t waist time on writing and that kind of nonsence.”

The CEO’s success might be well earned, a result of good business instincts, wise decisions, great support staff, favorable economic conditions, a niche product, or inherited wealth—despite the poor communication skills. If success were the result of ignorant writing and speech, we would be a country of zillionaires. Just in case, I recommend being aware of (and always trying to improve) your communication skills. It might not be a guarantee of success, but it won’t hurt.

Remember an NBA player, back in the eighties and nineties, named Spud Webb? At five feet seven (that’s right – five, not six), he had a staggering 42-inch vertical leap. In 1986 he won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Webb’s accomplishments were impressive despite his height, not because of it. Coaches did not immediately start to recruit the shortest players they could find, because no one else was Spud Webb.

My favorite real-life example of because vs. despite confusion comes from a small company where I once worked. We needed a new receptionist/typist. Our know-it-all business owner had previously worked with a secretary who had long fingernails. They extended perhaps a quarter-inch beyond her fingertips. She was also professional, personable, intelligent, and she somehow typed accurately despite the long-ish nails. But she was so good at her job that Mr. Big inexplicably equated her success with having long fingernails. Apparently the longer, the better—like Samson’s hair. And how clever of him to discover it!

When the interviews for our receptionist/typist position began, one candidate stood out from the rest. Not because of her skills, but because of her nails. They were at least two inches beyond her fingertips. They curved downward and were painted in neon colors. One nail sported multicolored stripes, two glued-on googly eyes, and a tuft of fur. It was, she explained, “Toucan Sam from the cereal commercial.” The office was abuzz with whispered questions: How does she button a coat? Eat French fries? Brush her teeth? How does she … oh dear.

But The Boss was so enchanted that he hired her – on the spot – without a typing test, a spelling test, or any other objective measure of her suitability for the job. Because he alone knew the secret to finding a good receptionist/typist.

Guess how that worked out.

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