August 20, 2013 / BE THE DUMB ONE IN THE ROOM
August 20, 2013
Writing a blog carries with it, or should carry, the responsibility of having something useful to share. So when I sat down to write an article titled, BE YOUR BEST AT BEING THE WORST, I wondered how I could use words to convince you, the reader, to strive to be the worst person at your job.
I’ll explain in a moment.
After sitting motionless at the keyboard for about an hour, it finally dawned on me that the best way to write an article about the virtues of being the worst is to actually be the worst at explaining the concept.
Still with me? Really? Good.
To be the worst, I thought it best to base the article on a quote from a person who easily outshines me. David Ogilvy, one of the most listened to pioneers of modern advertising and author of Ogilvy on Advertising—one of the most read books on the industry—has been quoted to have said, “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”
The quote speaks for itself and has been an axiom in businesses—from advertising to anvil making—since it was first published. I could stop here. However, in an effort to elevate my own worst-standing by just a bit, I’ll elaborate.
Even though Mr. Ogilvy’s insight applies broadly to life as well as to business, if we stick with just two business points-of-view, the benefits of being the worst will become clear.
We’ll start with the first point-of-view: the new employee.
The business landscape is changing. Today, a person just out of college doesn’t necessarily have to settle for starting out in the mailroom (with all due respect to ‘80s movies). Now, more than ever, “new-blood” has a lot to offer—fresh ideas, unique cultural perspectives and, in many cases, technical acumens that far outshine those of their predecessors.
However, by definition, a person just starting out has less global experience than his or her colleagues. It goes without saying that regardless of the neo-skill sets these newbies might bring to the table, they certainly still have a lot to learn.
In this case, the new employee would do well to take Mr. Ogilvy’s comment to heart: regardless of how good you might be, be better at surrounding yourself with people who are better than you—be the best at being the worst and you can only improve.
Easy, right? Now on to the second point-of-view: the seasoned veteran.
As I understand it, this is actually the person Mr. Ogilvy was speaking to. While few would argue that someone just beginning their career should make an effort to learn from others, too often the same philosophy doesn’t seem to be applied by those who’ve already made their bones—moreover, those with authority.
The business world can be exceptionally competitive. Sometimes, a natural response to that atmosphere is to make sure that anyone about to shine gets quickly covered with a very thick blanket. It might be done consciously or unconsciously, but it does happen. And when it happens, the person throwing the rug might benefit in the short term, but all they’ve done is exercise authority when they should have opted for exercising responsibility.
Another way to look at “be your best at being the worst” is this (and here’s the point):
Our greatest talent should always be the ability to cultivate the talents of those around us.
New or seasoned, manager or employee, it’s a matter of healthy humility. It elevates everyone and, quite frankly, it’s the best way to do business.
I read David Ogilvy’s quote when I was just starting out. At the time, I didn’t get the full weight of it. And, through measured insight or just dumb luck (I’m not sure), I took it to heart. As a new just-out-of-college designer, I wasn’t always successful at it, but I tried to listen to those around me to learn what I could. Now as a long-out-of-college director, and still not always successful at it, I try to listen to those around me to learn what I can. It’s a practice that has served me well and I am particularly proud of the fact that any true success I’ve experienced in my career has been a group effort.
Thank you Mr. Ogilvy.
So, back to the first paragraph, I’m obviously not advocating that you, the reader, be the worst person at your job. On the contrary, use your skills. Shine. But make it a practice to surround your self with giants. Do your level best to make those already around you into giants. And when everyone in the room can look around that room and say, “I can learn something from these people,” you’ll then have a business and a career worth having. In short, be your very best at being the worst—it’s the best thing you can do.