Just Because You Are Smart Doesn’t Mean Your Opinion Matters

Just because you are smart doesn’t mean your opinion matters. Yup, you got lottsa gray matter up there, plenty of neurons firing at will, but perhaps the best course of action is to acknowledge you and ignore you. Or me.

Here’s the point. Being smart is, you know, pedantic. Narrow. Baseline. Easy. It’s like selecting a date with a criteria of “must have a pulse“. OK, great, you are alive. But don’t ask me to be impressed by your baseline. Have you done your homework?

This sounds simple enough. Brilliant guy walks up and tells us how to do web design but has never seen the Internet. Easy enough to ignore. Because you have no ties. Ties that bind.

The most common example of this in our industry is Doctors who have never studied psychology or marketing or design and then want to art direct. At the end of the day you say yes, but this isn’t really in their best interests, is it? No, you have to push back. Doctors are smart. And you have to be pretty self confident to cut another human open and assume you can reassemble the bits. But they are out of their element and need to do their homework when it comes to marketing.

What about a programmer with 1 year experience out of college. Lets say they have more “snap” and raw IQ points. In a conversation with a programmer with 10 years of experience they come to a disagreement. The programmer with 10 years of experience keeps saying “that won’t work” and the new-programmer says “why not?” and “prove it.”

Why not? Well, the person with 10 years of experience has seen this pattern before. Our brains are hella-good at picking up on patterns. But that doesn’t mean we can articulate them. Working with a Millennial, frequently you just give in and say “ok, you figure it out”. And eventually they get back to the correct path. But at what cost and what lost-opportunity costs for the months lost?

Another example is you have a friend and your interests overlap 80%. But you are an artist and they are not. In fact they have never so much studied or read a book on art. This is like expecting a 2 year old to savor a fine wine. So they ARE smart. They ARE your equal on so many subjects, but on this one subject you pretty much have to ignore them because they are unqualified. Following their advice would be an expensive mistake in this one instance.

Yet they are your friend and suddenly you think they are full of it. Do they differentiate that this is one topic? You aren’t questioning their brilliant mind. Just observing that in this one area they are woefully unqualified and expecting you to take their advice (say dropping oil painting for making balloon animals because they see a future in that) is a BAD idea. But you treasure their advice in other areas.

So again, what do we do? We sometimes give in to the smart yet unqualified friend or let things progress at their speed until they figure it out. At what cost to you and society?

There should be a word for it. A “hey, you’re awesome and I respect you. But you lack the discipline or interest to study this area and you are way out of your element here.” Like in the Big Lebowski, but with fewer F-bombs. And in a way they understood without being offended.

So yes, just because you are smart does not mean your opinion matters. On many many levels. Ease up a bit folks. Humility and do your homework before you demand the stage. Society will be better off for it.

No One Makes it Alone – NO ONE.

Ninja Squirrles Cooperating
Ninja Squirrles Cooperating

Reading Gladwell‘s book Outliers, and this quote grabbed my attention.

He’d had to make his way alone, and no one — not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses — ever makes it alone.

I have always disliked the phrase “self made man” because in my experience I have never met one. Ever. We have this vision of a Galt-esque intellectual warrior who single handedly drives to success. And while this archetype may exist, they don’t achieve this success without innumerable amounts of assistance from people.

So the next time you hear someone say they are “self made”. Or a friend describe someone as a “self made man”. Please call BS. And buy them a copy of Outliers.

The photo? Two squirrels cooperating by the vision of the artist Elaine Bradford.

Leadership and the Rationalization of Immoral Behavior

As a leader, you have to talk about morality and ethics at work. Why? Because it is the only way to prevent the rationalization of immoral behavior. In other words, if you don’t want people to lie, cheat or steal at work, you have to talk about the fact that lying, cheating and stealing is morally wrong and most likely illegal.

So what is exactly is the "rationalization of immoral behavior"? Lets start with an example from MIT:

Ariely and his students went
around and left six-packs of Coke in randomly selected dorm
refrigerators all over campus. When he checked back in a few days, all
of the Cokes were gone.

But when he later placed plates of six loose dollar bills in those
same refrigerators, not a single bill was missing when he checked back.
Even though the value was comparable–and thus the situations were
supposed to be equivalent–people responded in opposite ways. Why is

The people who "took" the cokes, you might say "stole" the cokes, rationalized it as moral. They had to do this because part of human psychology is that we need to think of ourselves as rational and moral beings. We have to think of ourselves as moral, but how if we run around stealing cokes or deceiving investors or turning over business leads to a competitor?

This too has been studied (Bandura, 1990) and rationalization of immoral behavior requires a moral disengagement. That moral disengagement can be done by:

  1. Reconstructing Conduct. The brain says, "hey, I am shooting this car in a drive by but I am on a mission from God!" Basically pointing to a higher cause to justify a smaller immoral action.
  2. Obscuring personal agency. "I was just doing my job" or "that is the way Detroit politics always works and I am just a cog in the machine."
  3. Disregarding negative consequences. This one is hard for me to understand, but as I read about it, it sounds like just not thinking about the consequences. "It’s those OTHER drug dealers who go to jail, not me."
  4. Blaming and dehumanizing victims. Ahhh, this is the workplace one that we see. Find something, anything, a coworker or boss says and "they deserve it" or "for all I do for this place, they don’t pay me enough, I have EARNED this Camcorder I am stealing."

I know from training to work at Circuit City stores years ago the power of the "blaming and dehumanizing victims" element to rationalize theft. Our store had the lowest shrink (retail word for theft) in the district at one time. And a large part of that was because of how well the management team treated the workers. It is harder to dehumanize a good boss than a bad one. Harder, but not impossible.

Sometimes companies make it easy. A cut in benefits will predictably increase theft. And yet really, yes really and truly, the thief doesn’t think they are a thief! They have simply realized internally that to steal they have to find SOME method of justifying it. So they dehumanize their coworkers and say "I am deserved this" and they are bad people so it is OK for me to reduce their profit sharing checks." All the while the thief probably would not take $10 off their desk if left alone.

Continue reading “Leadership and the Rationalization of Immoral Behavior”

Leadership Notes from Justice Article on Belichick

I enjoy the study of leadership. And success. Winning is great. So some of the quotes from this Justice article titled Belichick has an eye for success, quite literally, caught my eye. Here are a few of them. All bold emphasis added by me.

"You can talk about managing the salary cap, and you can talk about
finding players, bringing in new players," Patriots vice
president/personnel Scott Pioli said. "But one of the most difficult
things that’s not often talked about is just managing success.

Managing success means managing egos and the heart. It means seeing
Bruschi for what he can contribute next season instead of what he
contributed last season.


Coaches sell players on three things: money, fame and success. They
preach that if they do the right things, the team will be successful
and fame and fortune will follow.


He (Belichick) seems to value intelligence above everything else in his hires. His offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, is 31 years old.


Confidence in team

His message to Tom Brady and to the rest of his players that afternoon was, "I believe in you."

Belichick wants players who are smart and motivated and want to be pushed.

"If we win, he wants to put it behind us and get ready to play the
next game," Brady said. "If we lose, he’s on us until Wednesday."

The company is over 10 years old at this point. We had a great year in 2007 thanks to our clients. Yet every day is a challenge. I need all the help I can get. If you are into leadership, I recommend reading Justice’s article even though we know the Patriot’s didn’t get that perfect season after all.

Deb Fortune – May God Bless You and Go In Peace

I have the privilege of working for some amazing clients. To serve them. One amazing person, someone I   learned as much from as she hopefully did from us, is Deb Fortune. Deb passed away on November 9th. I just found out. And it is tremendously sad news.

Deb Fortune could only look at how to move forward, never how to step back. If you did step back she was reaching out, grabbing your hand, and once again showing you the way forward. Racing you to pick up the lunch tab. Smiling. Crossing cultural and generational boundaries as few can actually do. Yet she could. All the while her quick wit, and sometimes a dab of sarcasm, would make you smile knowing she was right.

From Deb’s site:

“There is nothing more exciting than to be involved with an organization that builds a high performance culture through development and implementation of their values, vision, and guiding behaviors. Helping to build on an organization’s strengths to shape an environment where individual and organizational health can be achieved is truly rewarding.“   – Deb Fortune

To borrow from her quote – working with Deb was “truly rewarding.” Deb was a driven person. Not by money as she had achieved that. Yet she did not have an off button when it came to topics she was passionate about. One of those topics was corporate culture.

“Culture is like the water fish swim in. It is an integral part of their environment; they are surrounded by it every day. Its effects can be felt, yet it remains unseen.” – Deb Fortune

I knew Deb initially from a professional relationship. But she became a friend. Not sure if she really could do business long term with someone she didn’t like, and to me that is a huge compliment. I made the cut. Yea! Thanks Deb!

From her obituary on the chronicle site:

DEBORAH JANE GIBBONS FORTUNE was born on June 13, and died at her home
in The Woodlands on November 9, 2007. She is survived by her children,
Jennie, Josh, Katie, stepchildren Beth and Tara, and seven
grandchildren: Pete, Jhett, Jonas, Alexander, Cynthia, Jennifer and
Christopher. Deb was 59, and gave life and love to all those around
her. She trusted that the Lord would put her where she was meant to be,
and this wisdom lifted her into His arms, out of pain, and with her
family in Heaven.

I’ll paste Deb Fortune’s full CV after the jump, mainly because it is simply too important to risk the record not being retained. In closing this post I’d like to say

“Deb – you will be missed greatly. You made the world a better place and your family is blessed to have had you in their lives. May God bless you and go in peace Deb. Go in peace.”

Continue reading “Deb Fortune – May God Bless You and Go In Peace”

66% Error Rates – um NO! “job emplyment oportunity”

I received an email from a job applicant last year with the following subject line (sic):

job emplyment oportunity

Now here is the problem. Two out of three words are spelled incorrectly. This is a 66.66% error rate. There are only three (3) words in the entire subject line!

In this case the student feels the email subject line doesn’t matter as that is just casual communication. But if entrusted with interacting with our clients surely he would spell every word correctly. He believed there is a difference between small actions and large actions. He believed that his behavior was different based on the "stakes".

Oh sure, yes the first client contact email would be
spell checked and double checked. But once familiarity sets in, we go
back to completely unprofessional communication (especially in the days
of automatic spell check!).

I like this quote, although it is more focused on leadership, the point remains; it is not the big actions, but rather the small actions that define us.

is a practice that requires self-discipline to hone and adapt the
thousands of small actions that result in others’ following you
" (3 of 4) – Dr. O’Brien

Small actions. Small details. As a student of leadership I have read over and over, and experienced
over and over, that there is a 100% correlation between small actions
and large actions. To judge a person fairly; first judge them by their small actions and then increase their responsibility.

Yahoo! Peanut Butter Manifesto

I love reading the thoughts of a leader like Brad Garlinghouse. Especially a leader willing to state what is obvious yet uncomfortable. Obvious, courageous and still unspoken internally.

If you are in the tech sector and in a leadership position (or aspire to such), please do read the Yahoo! peanut butter manifesto. From ypbm:

We have lost our passion to win. Far too many employees are "phoning"
it in, lacking the passion and commitment to be a part of the solution.


There are three pillars to my plan:

  1. Focus the vision.
  2. Restore accountability and clarity of ownership
  3. Execute a radical reorganization.

Via Liz Gannes at GigaOM.