The essential thing “in heaven and earth” is . . . that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living. – Friedrich Nietzsche
If you’ve been glancing at recent blog posts, you’ll notice they are about selling. Consultative selling, to be precise. I figured I’d try and write a book on the topic – and focusing on it for a few months seemed a good way to pull together a first draft.
Why? I’m not a salesperson. I’m not particularly good at the sales process, prospecting, keeping records, following up, closing. It’s also pretty dull really.
I’m not sure many people are great at being salespeople. We used to say about a product that we bought it inspite of the salesperson, not because of him. We could see it would do what we wanted. And I’ve not really seen a situation where a pure salesperson brought in more money during his or her employment than they cost.
But, sales and marketing is not something you can simply hand off to someone else either. It doesn’t matter what you do – you are going to survive by earning a commission on the value you create. Very few people get away with having to do nothing of value.
A job, for example, is a commission only role where you get a third of what you make the company. That’s a basic rule of thumb – you need to bring in around three times what an employee costs you to make it worth employing them.
The better you sell yourself, the more likely it is that you’ll get a good job – or grow your business – or excel in your profession.
Marketing and sales, then, is something everyone has to do. So, it makes sense to figure out how to do it less badly. Not do it well necessarily – not to superstar levels where you can get your own TV channel and sell lots of books – but to the point where you don’t make simple mistakes that cost you business.
And that really comes down to learning how to play nicely with the other children.
Which brings us to an essay by Larry Wall, the creator of Perl, that touches on the issue.
If you’re a doer – someone who does a creative job – then you probably have certain character traits. These are impatience, laziness and hubris.
I find this easiest to explain in the context of computer programming. There are lots of people right now in the world that go to work every day and use spreadsheets. They spend their time working through and checking the data, copying and pasting stuff and checking their work and colour coding it and checking their work.
Most people use spreadsheets like a … well, you can think of an analogy. The point is that it’s flexible enough for anyone to open up a new sheet and put in something and do some calculations. So they do that. Usually badly.
Spreadsheets are easy to use. But they are also a hugely powerful programming languages that you can use to make your life a lot easier. If you want to hire someone to do Excel, give them simple problem that involves VLOOKUP. Let them use the Internet to look for answers. If they can use that function correctly, you can hire them.
Someone who has learned that is on their way to being a programmer. And programmers are lazy. They don’t want to do the same thing twice. So, if they have to, they write code to make their lives easier.
They are also impatient. They don’t want to wait. So they’ll work on how to make things work faster or talk to each other better or share information more effectively.
They are also comfortable with hubris. No sooner have they created a solution that they think of all the things they would chance and get busy creating the next version that will make the old one obsolete.
If you’re a company founder, you probably think the same way. You’re creating a new business because you’re impatient with the way things are now. You’re probably too lazy to struggle on with the hard road when you can build a better one. And you’ll start over if you have to – from scratch because it’s so much easier to build from scratch than fix something that is stuck and broken.
As Wall writes, these three characteristics are individual ones and they give us drive and passion and help us be unreasonable and change things.
But… they don’t help us change the world.
For that, we need to work with others. And others are difficult to work with. They don’t think like us.
I found that when I had to do something on my own it was easy. I had an idea and did it.
When there were more people involved, sometimes we agreed on what to do and actually managed to do it.
With even more people… life turned into a slog through chest high mud. You couldn’t get anything done because other people needed to be involved, to give input, to be mollified and pacified and socialised.
But that’s the price you have to pay if you want to be a part of society.
So, the mirror image, the flip side to laziness, hubris and impatience are the virtues that are needed if you want to be more than just yourself. To be a part of your community.
And those are patience, humility and diligence.
You need to be patient with those who disagree with you or cannot keep up with you. You need to be humble so that you don’t think your way is the only way. And you need to be diligent – to keep working on something until you do something worth doing.
Not understanding that we need to be able to hold and apply these opposing concepts at the same time is at the root of much of the failure we see in the world today.
What’s the point in being a successful business person if you’ve lost your family and relationships in the process?
What’s the point of creating a hugely profitable company if everyone that works for you hates your guts?
What’s the point of being a lone voice speaking of a better way to do things if no one else will engage with you?
The point that Wall makes is that it’s okay to have either or both or a different way altogether. The virtues described in the two triangles are not opposites – they just are.
There are many ways to become successful – to reach whatever goals you define as success for you.
But… if you want to succeed as a person and as a part of society… you would do well to keep these two sets of words in mind.
They may help choose the right action – as you and as us. Then you’ll do something new and cool and play nicely with everyone else and hopefully end up having a good time.