What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School by Mark McCormack Summary

You need talent, persuasion skills, and an understanding of how the game is played.

Rating

8/10

One sentence summary

This book is like The 48 Laws of Power but specifically for business.

Chapter 1

Reading People

Key Takeaways:

  1. Analyze people’s egos. Most successful businessmen have huge egos. A huge ego is often representative of low self-esteem.
  2. Values matter much more than celebrity, position, or appearances.
  3. People put on a mask during formal business settings (like a meeting). Pay closer attention to how they act before or after the meeting.
  4. Notice how people act when they are outside of their comfort zones.
  5. Notice how people act in casual situations. Notice how they treat a waiter or airline attendant. Get them into a causal setting: Ask them to breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
  6. Watch out for people who believe their own lies. They are delusional and cannot be trusted.

Keys to Social Interactions:

1. LISTEN AGGRESSIVELY

  • Listen not only to what someone is saying, but how he is saying it. People tend to tell you a lot more than they mean to. Keep pausing – a slightly uncomfortable silence will make them say even more.

2. OBSERVE AGGRESSIVELY

  • Have you ever said to yourself when watching a chat show or a news interview, ‘Oh, that person’s nervous,’ or ‘Aha! That question made him uncomfortable’? You don’t need to read a book on body language to interpret certain motions or gestures, or to ‘hear’ the statement someone may be making simply by the way he or she is dressed.

3. TALK LESS

  • You will automatically learn more, hear more, see more – and make fewer blunders. Everyone can talk less and almost everyone should be talking less. Ask questions, and then don’t begin to answer them yourself.

4. TAKE A SECOND LOOK AT FIRST IMPRESSIONS

  • I usually go with my first impressions, but only after I’ve carefully scrutinized them. Some sort of ‘thinking out’ or contemplative process has to take place between your initial impression and your acceptance of it as a tenet of a relationship.”

5. TAKE TIME TO USE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED

  • If you’re about to make a presentation or a phone call, take a moment to think about what you know, and what the reaction you want is. From what you know of the other person, what can you say or do to be most likely to get it?
  • Prepare for both business and casual meetings.

6. BE DISCREET

  • Discretion is the better part of reading people. The idea of using what you have learned properly is not to tell them how insecure you think they are, or to point out all the things you have perceptively intuited that they may be doing wrong. If you let them know what you know, you will blow any chance of using your own insight effectively.
  • You don’t owe anyone an insight into yourself for every insight you have into him. Remember, you can only use what you’ve learned if he’s learned less about you. Don’t brag. Let people find out about you from other people or resources. Be diplomatic.

7. BE DETACHED

  • If you can force yourself to step back from any business situation, particularly one that is heating up, your powers of observation will automatically increase. When the other person gets a little hot under the collar, he or she is going to be more revealing than at almost any other time. If you come back with an equally heated response, you will not only be less observant, you will be revealing just as much about yourself.
  • I am practically a missionary for the importance of acting rather than reacting in any business situation.

Notes:

“In a company of 2500 people there are 2500 egos running around, each with his or her unique view of reality. Ego is why some things that should happen don’t, why other things that shouldn’t happen do, and why both take a lot longer than necessary.

A person’s ego, even an overbearing one, may be your strongest ally. A lot of deals get made simply because someone’s ego was so involved that he could not psychologically afford not to get it done. If you can read ego, understand its impact on business events, then control it by either stroking it, poking at it or minimizing its damage, you can be the beneficiary of many of these deals.

The size of someone’s ego is by far the easiest thing to figure out about him. Most successful businessmen are one giant ego with a couple of arms and legs sticking out. (Interestingly, and as a generalization, most women in business are somewhat harder to read. Even today a woman’s sense of self – how she defines herself – is less wrapped up in her job than is that of her male counterparts.)

But a giant ego doesn’t mean a strong ego. In fact, it often means the opposite, that someone feels the need to be assertive because of a low self-image. And a small ego doesn’t necessarily indicate weakness. Many of the most effective people I know in business are very low-key.

I prefer to deal with strong egos, as I’m sure most people in business do. These are usually the executives who are willing to take reasonable risks, don’t second guess, and are the quickest to get things done.”

“Once you have determined the strength of a person’s ego, you can cope with a range of pragmatic questions: how direct and forthright are his answers? How quickly will he make a decision, and once he has made it will he vacillate? Is he consistent? Is he upfront or would he rather operate from behind a wall? Does he deal with the facts as they are or as he would like them to be?

And, most important of all: how secure is this person?

A person’s ‘security quotient’ has a direct bearing on how he will behave in business situations. Will he be stubborn or reasonable? Will form be more important than substance? What excesses and vanities will probably come into play? Is he likely to say one thing and do another? Does he prefer to deal to your face … or to your back?”

“As I grow older and, theoretically, wiser, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of business character and other inner qualities and to see the relative insignificance of outward glitter, whether it be celebrity, position or appearances.

People who are impressed by the superficial should make you wonder how easy it would be to pull the wool over their eyes in a business dealing.

Be alert to the business acquaintance who refers to his ‘very close friend’ (usually someone whose name is calculated to impress) or implies that he has a strong personal relationship with a particular associate.”

  • “If you happen to know the person being claimed as a friend, you might want to get that person’s version of the relationship. If it turns out that they have met only once or twice, you might start thinking more about the accuracy of his other statements.”

“People often reveal their innermost selves in the most innocent of situations. How they deal with a waiter or an airline attendant can provide a fascinating glimpse beneath the surface.”

“I was once having lunch in New York with someone I had not met before but I knew from previous phone conversations that we were likely to be negotiating with one another.

When the menus came, he told me he was on a strict diet and was going to have only a cup of coffee. This was a fairly prominent restaurant, and I found it interesting that he was not intimidated into ordering something just for the sake of ordering it.

But when the waiter came, and I asked my guest out of politeness if he was sure he wouldn’t have just a salad, he said, ‘Maybe I should,’ and added, ‘I’ll have whatever you’re having.’

I found this even more interesting. If he could change his mind so easily, I had to wonder just how firm his ‘final’ position in a negotiation might be, how easily influenced he would be to follow the lead in any negotiation – and even whether he might make concessions based on convenience rather than convictions.”

“Fish-out-of-water venues – or any small gathering in which people are forced to interact and operate outside their own comfort zones – can also be educational. I am constantly mixing diverse groups of friends, clients and business associates for this reason. I find it instructive, for instance, to see how some of our sports clients respond to people from the world of business.”

“This, in part, helps me determine the degree to which I should expose clients to customers and licensees prior to a commitment. Some – Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jackie Stewart, John Newcombe and Jean-Claude Killy come immediately to mind – you can ‘take anywhere’, and their personality is a key part of our sales effort. But others, if they aren’t talking about themselves or to someone in their field, have nothing to say.”

“Formal business situations, highly structured meetings, negotiating sessions or other forms of business interaction are likely to be the least revealing because these are the times when people are most likely to have their ‘game faces’ on.

So, consciously tune in to the fringe times, the beginnings and endings, the periods of transition, which are when people are most likely to let their guard down. During a two-hour business meeting, the first several minutes – before you actually get down to the business at hand – and the last several minutes – as everyone is saying goodbye – can tell you more about the people you are dealing with than almost anything else that goes on in between.”

“Also, be aware of people during interruptions, unusual exchanges or anything that intrudes upon the more formal flow of a business situation. There is a certain amount of role-playing in most business encounters, and when someone ‘breaks ranks.”

“I have often said that I can tell more about how someone is likely to react in a business situation from one round of golf than I can from a hundred hours of meetings. Maybe golf cuts more directly to the psyche than other games and situations.”

Watch out for people who believe their own lies. They will creatively interpret the facts and then stick with them like they are Gospel. Be careful with them in business settings.

Chapter 2

Creating Impressions

Key Takeaways:

  1. Always introduce yourself with eye contact and your first and last name.
  2. Your clothes, correspondence, and introductions matter. These are what people use to judge you.
  3. The details matter. Ex) The alcoholic drink you choose says something about you.
  4. Even if you have something worth saying, if you express it in a tone or a manner that is a turn-off, it guarantees no one will listen.
  5. People will forgive all sorts of ‘out-of-character’ behavior in you if their overall lasting impression is a favorable one.
  6. Say you don’t know very much about a topic you know a lot about.
  7. You can use someone’s more harsh persona as a way to spin yourself as a victim. Ex) If they are from New York.
  8. Emails, letters, and correspondence need to be professional and have no typos.
  9. Personalize all of your business correspondence. Write a couple of sentences or paragraphs that refer to some personal interest of the recipient which has little or nothing to do with the subject of the letter. It is most important to do this with your first-ever letter to them.
  10. Business is about making personal friendships.
  11. Give out Christmas cards and gifts every year.
  12. The way you dress forms an immediate, strong impression about who you are. In general, it makes more sense to be dressed conservatively.
  13. Set yourself up to have a good impression. Ex) Schedule a call for 10 AM, then call at 10 AM sharp.
  14. The quickest way to make a lasting negative impression is to waste someone’s time: use it cavalierly, or take up more of it than you need.
  15. Always keep your promises.
  16. Connect people together. This is the best favor you can do.
  17. Humor is useful in business settings.

Keys to Relationships:

1. DO SOMETHING FOR THE KIDS

  • Ex) If their kids love basketball, get them courtside seats to the game.

2. LET PEOPLE OFF THE HOOK

  • People often agree to do things, and then for a variety of reasons beyond their control are no longer able to do them or may even no longer want to do them. Let people off the hook and let people change their minds.

3. DRIVE A SOFT BARGAIN

  • Don’t be tough in negotiations with friends or people you want a long-term relationship with.

4. FLATTER LEGITIMATELY

  • False flattery is transparent, and can easily backfire. But legitimate flattery – appreciating and acknowledging someone’s genuine business skills from which you have benefited – can be quite seductive.

5. MAKE FRIENDS

  • All things being equal, people will buy from a friend. All things being not quite so equal, people will still buy from a friend. Make friends.

6. MAKE MENTORS AND CONFIDANTS

  • Both mentors and confidants can lead to very effective business relationships. Both will want to buy from you, want to help you out, want to do you a favor whenever they can.
  • ‘Mentorism’ is simply a matter of seeking advice and direction from someone you trust and respect. Pretty soon, the line between giving you this advice and doing you a favour totally disappears.
  • Making a confidant does not mean betraying confidences or giving away corporate secrets. It means sharing your personal feelings from time to time, passing on information that doesn’t affect you but may be helpful to him, or encouraging him to confide in you.”

7. BE DISCREET

  • I don’t think there is any way I can over-emphasize the importance of confidentiality in business. It’s this simple: if you violate a confidence, the act will eventually come back to haunt you.

Notes:

No matter how many times I have met someone, if I am not one hundred per cent sure that person knows my name – first and last – I am going to open with ‘I’m Mark McCormack.'

This is a minor point. But that’s exactly what making the right business impression is all about. The day-to-day flow of business rarely provides for the Monumental Act or the Grand Gesture. Just as you can gain some of the greatest insights into people by the little things they say and do, it is the little things you say and do that often make the most enduring impression.

How people relate to you in business is based on the conscious and unconscious statements you make about yourself. The way you dress, your phone manner, your efficiency, the way you phrase a letter, the way you greet people, all affect the impression you make on others – their ‘reading’ of you – making people perceive you in the way that you want to be perceived.

“Obviously, people who think they are being manipulated and controlled won’t be. The most effective executives impress in unobtrusive ways. Sometimes this is a simple act or gesture that, if never made, would probably never be missed; that’s precisely why it will be noticed when it is made.”

“Often, particularly in negotiations, the way something is phrased totally alters the dynamics of the relationships involved. I have even seen it come down to the addition or deletion of a single word or two, the use of an ‘I agree,’ for instance, even when you don’t, and before canceling it out with a ‘but …’.”

I was once having lunch with Ray Cave, the managing editor of Time magazine, and when we reached the restaurant Ray greeted the maître d’ with ‘Good to see you again.’

The maître d’ perked right up and immediately led us to our table. After he disappeared, I said to Ray, ‘I thought you told me you had never eaten here before.’

‘I haven’t,’ he said.

A colleague of Ray Cave, Patricia Ryan, the managing editor of People magazine, once told me that if she is having a business lunch in which she anticipates being intimidated or not being taken seriously enough she will order a Scotch and water. She rarely drinks, but just ordering a Scotch instead of a Perrier creates a subtle, almost imperceptibly different I-mean-business impression.

The subtlety of making impressions, of course, is what demands the self-awareness – conscious connection between the impression you create and the impression you want to create. Often people who think they are being impressive, who make a show of it or of themselves, are indeed creating very strong impressions, almost all bad.

But even worse than a skewed self-awareness is none at all. Have you ever seen a business executive, discovering there is a problem with an airline reservation, start to yell and scream at the ticket clerk? Here is the one guy left with the power to get him on that plane, and he goes out of his way to alienate him.

This is the own-worst-enemy syndrome. Even if you have something worth saying, if you express it in a tone or a manner that is a turn-off, it guarantees no one will listen.

Be aware of all the subtle opportunities you have every day for impressing positively and all the not-so-subtle opportunities you have for impressing negatively. Creating the right impression can be as simple as treating people the way they want to be treated. Or as difficult as treating them that way even when they beg not to be.

The impression you’ve made is what allows you to be less than perfect. If you can take advantage of all the little opportunities to create an overall ongoing impression of competence, effectiveness, maturity and fair-minded toughness – the kind of person people want to do business with – they will overlook the occasional transgression. People will forgive all sorts of ‘out-of-character’ behaviour in you if their overall lasting impression is a favourable one.”

Consider doing the opposite of what someone expects. Often, it’s remarkably effective.

If someone is expecting toughness, it is amazing what a simple, self-effacing remark will do. If someone anticipates a hard line, making an immediate insignificant concession is a good way to begin. The more someone thinks I want something from him, the more I will go out of my way to appear that I don’t.

Recently, we very much wanted to sign up a reticent client, a well-known television personality who knew how badly we wanted to sign her and was expecting us to pull out the stops. In two get acquainted meetings I told her a little about myself and our company and talked a lot above her career, her opportunities and how, if I were in her shoes, I would go about taking advantage of them.

I never even mentioned the subject of representation. Naturally, she began to wonder why we weren’t pursuing her more aggressively – and she began to pursue us.

If I am presumed to be knowledgeable about a situation, I will often say something within the first minute or two of a meeting that might indicate otherwise. At the very least it is disarming, and generally the less knowledgeable one appears, the more forthcoming and revealing the other party will be.

Conversely, if I am thought to be in the dark, I will drop one or two innocent comments that let the other person discover that I know more than he thinks I do.

In international business dealings, I have seen the language barrier – or a perceived language barrier – used effectively in this manner. No comprende, and its hundreds of linguistic variations, is a very useful business tool.

Culture and customs are interesting even within the various regions of the United States. A born and bred New Yorker, for instance, doing business in the South, is often vulnerable to what he perceives to be his own hard edge, and I have seen many Southern businessmen skewer ‘Yankees’ on their own vulnerability. Whenever there is a perceived cultural contrast – big city v. small one, entertainment industry v. Wall Street – there is probably an advantage for someone.

Emails, letters, and correspondence need to be professional and have no typos.

“I’m a real stickler about any written communication that goes out over my name. I insist that it be neatly typed (‘pleasing to the eye’) and contain no spelling errors or typos. There are few things in business that you can easily make stick, but this is one of them.

It frustrates me to hear a secretary say, ‘It’s almost right.’ Correspondence forms a strong subliminal impression about how you run your business, and I don’t want someone to think I run it ‘almost right’ when I have such a simple, obvious opportunity to impress otherwise.”

I try to take the time to personalize all my business correspondence – with anything from a couple of sentences to a couple of paragraphs – to refer to some personal interest of the recipient which has little or nothing to do with the subject of the letter.

This can mean bringing up a recent business deal that I know has gone his way; acknowledging his interest in a local sports team (‘How about those Browns?’ or ‘Did you get to the game on Sunday?’); or asking something about his family. It can mean expressing support – hoping that his workload has eased up or that he will finally get a break he’s been looking for.

  • It is particularly impressive to personalize an initial solicitation letter. It’s bound to get noticed because it will invariably raise the question, ‘How did he know that?’ which will show, if nothing else, that you’ve taken the time to do some homework.
  • Business is about making personal friendships.

“I also keep extensive lists of business Christmas cards and Christmas gifts which I send out every year. The autumn and holiday seasons are our busiest time, as they are with most businesses, and so every year it would be easy to convince myself to skip it, that no one really cares and probably won’t even notice. That’s what a lot of people do, and that’s precisely why I don’t.”

“As we have seen, your secretary is your official link with the outside world and how she deals with it is a mirror image of how the outside world sees you. If she is abrupt, you are perceived to be abrupt. If she drops confidential information you are perceived to drop confidential information. If she drops names on your behalf, you are perceived as a name dropper. If she is officious and overbearing, then you are thought to be officious and overbearing”

The way you dress forms an immediate, strong impression about who you are. In general, it makes more sense to be dressed conservatively.

“Coco Chanel once said that if a woman is poorly dressed, you notice her dress, and if she’s impeccably dressed, you notice the woman.”

“I think she could have given that same advice to business executives – male and female. As a general rule it is desirable to have your business dress say nothing about you – other than perhaps that your clothes fit.”

Whenever I’m involved in a new business relationship, I create situations that allow for split-second efficiency on my part. I will set up a phone call for 10 a.m., and will call precisely at 10 a.m. I will promise to have a letter on somebody’s desk by next Monday, and that letter will be there by next Monday. I will show up for an appointment exactly when I said I would.

Do this the first few times you deal with any new business associates and they will assume you conduct all your business affairs that way. Moreover, they’ll play along. You will find you will get the same on-time responses from them that they have come to anticipate from you.

The quickest way to make a lasting negative impression is to waste someone’s time: use it cavalierly, or take up more of it than you need.

“If you don’t have something to say, don’t set up a meeting just to make a contact. A contact who is really worth having will respond to your ‘I just wanted to meet you’ by making sure you never meet again.

Don’t make people waste their time in your office. It is exasperating to have to sit in someone’s office while that person takes prolonged telephone calls.”

“There are times when one of the best sales techniques in the world is simply to ‘show up’ – to hop on a plane and go wherever you have to go to meet someone at his convenience, at his office. Sometimes this is dictated by protocol, sometimes by a sense of the situation.

But as a general rule you are far better off having meetings at your own office. This has very little to do with ‘power offices’ and everything to do with territorial imperative. Even if all you have is a ‘power cubicle’, it is still best to meet on your own turf.

First of all, it is your theatre. You can exercise control over a meeting in your office that you simply don’t have elsewhere.

Second, because of the territorial imperative, a meeting on your turf brings with it a sense of ‘invasion’ by the other party. There is tension there, however sublimated it may be. Simply by being polite and making the other person feel comfortable you can diffuse that tension, and earn a certain amount of confidence and trust even before the meeting begins.

The only office affectation I allow myself is keeping my lights very low. Otherwise, to me, a ‘powerful’ office is either a very big one or one that is neat, clean and efficient, a place where one can tell that business gets done.”

“Business promises are made all the time, and almost as often they’re broken – needlessly creating a horrible impression. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you can’t do it, think it’s more trouble than it’s worth, or don’t want to do it, then don’t say you will. Make up any excuse, but don’t even say ‘I’ll try.’ At the very least, that leaves the other party with the impression that you tried – and failed”

“Business gestures fall into three distinct categories: gestures that are easily overlooked, ignored or misconstrued; gestures that are appreciated in passing; and gestures that are appreciated in the long term.

The first category obviously takes in all the gestures that either go unnoticed or actively work against you. There are certain gestures, such as making a call on someone’s behalf or helping out one of his associates, that the other party may not even know about. You can’t expect people to be appreciative if they don’t know why they should be, and it is in your interest to let them know casually when you have made a nice gesture on their behalf. (‘We gave some time to your assistant last week.’ Or ‘I let so-and-so know how much we have appreciated all your help.’)”

“The blatant favour is another interesting first-case example. If it is too obvious, it can be too easily misconstrued (or correctly construed) and will carry with it a conscious sense of obligation. Blatant favours can backfire. There are countless times when we are asked to get some shirts or golf clubs or tickets for someone, and the colour or size is wrong, the swing-weight not quite right or the tickets not very good, with the result that more bad will is created than if the whole exercise had not been attempted in the first place. It is kind of like trying to save the drowning man, breaking his arm in the effort, and then getting sued”

One of the best ‘long-term’ favours you can do for someone is to act as someone else’s middleman – putting together two parties in whom you have no immediate interest. Both parties will remember.

The best favors you can do:

“DO SOMETHING FOR THE KIDS

Sometimes, the most impressive gestures are indirect. When my son Todd was in grade school, he was crazy about football. A business associate of mine arranged for Todd to meet the Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback, Fran Tarkenton. Todd was absolutely thrilled – and I never forgot it.

If you have a client or customer you want to impress, do something for his kids. It will mean far more to your customer than almost anything you could do for him.”

  • McCormack says there’s nothing inappropriate about this.

“LET PEOPLE OFF THE HOOK

People often agree to do things, and then for a variety of reasons beyond their control are no longer able to do them or may even no longer want to do them. Circumstances may have changed; new information may have altered their desire to make the deal, or they may have been overruled by someone higher on the corporate ladder.

As a lawyer, it’s easy for me to treat a commitment as a commitment and a deal as a deal. But I’ve often found that by recognizing extenuating circumstances and letting someone off the hook I have accomplished much more for myself and my company in the long run.

  • One of McCormack’s clients had to lower his retainer. McCormack said it wasn’t a problem. When the client was doing better financially, they raised his pay to make up for lowering it in the past.
  • Let people change their minds.

“DRIVE A SOFT BARGAIN

Expanding on an existing business relationship is almost always easier than starting a new one. By creating the right impression you make people want to deal with you over and over again. Achieving that often comes down to knowing how hard to push.”

  • Don’t be tough in negotiations with friends or people you want a long-term relationship with.

“FLATTER LEGITIMATELY

False flattery is transparent, and can easily backfire.

But legitimate flattery – appreciating and acknowledging someone’s genuine business skills from which you have benefited – can be quite seductive. It you think someone has acted ‘smart’ and you have benefited from it, tell him how smart you think he is. (But don’t call someone smart just because he bought from you. This falls in the category of false flattery and raises suspicions rather than trust.)

One of the most effective forms of legitimate flattery is by making the person you are flattering look good in the eyes of others in his company.

MAKE FRIENDS

All things being equal, people will buy from a friend. All things being not quite so equal, people will still buy from a friend.

Make friends.

You don’t have to become bosom buddies with everyone with whom you do business. But call them up occasionally, find out what they’re doing, chew the fat – express interest.

It is important in our business to call a client and ask him how he played over the weekend or if he’s sorted out a problem with his second serve, his sand wedge, etc. It’s so simple to do, and yet sometimes even people in my own company tend to forget what these seemingly insignificant phone calls mean to personal relationships. So did I until I learned the hard way.

“MAKE MENTORS: MAKE CONFIDANTS

Both mentors and confidants can lead to very effective business relationships. Both will want to buy from you, want to help you out, want to do you a favour whenever they can.

‘Mentorism’ is simply a matter of seeking advice and direction from someone you trust and respect. Pretty soon, the line between giving you this advice and doing you a favour totally disappears.

Making a confidant does not mean betraying confidences or giving away corporate secrets. It means sharing your personal feelings from time to time, passing on information that doesn’t affect you but may be helpful to him, or encouraging him to confide in you.”

“BE DISCREET

I don’t think there is any way I can over-emphasize the importance of confidentiality in business. People may like what you’re telling them, but on a deeper, more subliminal level – the level of trust – they don’t like the act of your telling them.

If one of our tennis executives tells Chris Evert Lloyd all about what Martina Navratilova is up to, Chrissie can’t help but wonder, ‘What is he telling Martina about me?’

It’s this simple: if you violate a confidence, the act will eventually come back to haunt you.”

“Laughter is the most potent, constructive force for diffusing business tension: so be the one who controls it. If you can point out what is humorous or absurd about a situation or confrontation, can diffuse the tension by getting the other party to share your feeling, you will be guaranteed the upper hand. There are very few absolutes in business. This is one of them, and I’ve never seen it fail.”

“A great deal of role-playing goes on in business.”

“It is also important to force yourself to act rather than to react to situations. For example, I rarely take calls, but I always return them. You are much less likely to snap at someone on the phone if you are initiating the phone call than if you are being interrupted by it.”

  • Contact people on your own terms. When you are prepared.

“I once heard someone say, ‘Everyone makes errors. It’s when those errors are repeated that it becomes a mistake.’ You don’t have to be perfect, but you should learn from your imperfections.”

Chapter 3

Taking the Edge

Key Takeaways:

  1. Deeply understand the companies and people you are dealing with.
  2. As Gary Player once said, ‘The harder I practice, the luckier I get.’
  3. Don’t react to crisis. Take the time to analyze the situation and figure out your move.
  4. Be diplomatic. There is a right and a wrong way/time to say something.

Notes:

“You can’t take an edge until you have first taken a look at the facts. Facts alone won’t guarantee you an edge, but they can protect you from handing it over to someone else. Unless you know all or most of the pertinent ‘givens’ that define the situation, you are dealing from a partial deck. Assume that the one fact you don’t know – maybe because it’s a little harder to find out – is the one that will make the difference.”

  • You win by having more or better information.
  • “Take the time and make the effort to learn everything you can about the companies and the people you are dealing with.”

The first time I attempted to sell the American television rights to the British Open Golf Championship, that is exactly what happened. I had been negotiating with the Head of Sports for one of the networks. When we met to close the deal, I brought along one of our top television executives and he brought along someone from his ‘Business Affairs’ department (networkese for lawyers and accountants).

Within minutes I knew the meeting would go nowhere. The Head of Sports, who was doing the talking, was not about to concede anything in front of his Business Affairs guy or to depart in any way – to ‘break’ – from what the two of them had discussed prior to the meeting. The presence of my television executive, with whom they dealt more frequently, only exacerbated the situation. They did not want to appear to fold to any of my demands in front of him.

These were the operative facts that far outweighed all the others. It no longer mattered what I was selling or what they were buying or if we kept talking for a week. This meeting simply wasn’t going anywhere and to try to make it would only pull it further apart.

As soon as I could, I suggested we end the meeting and take some more time to think about our positions.

Think on your toes. Always be ready to take advantage of an opportunity.

Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell 'em, "Certainly, I can!" Then get busy and find out how to do it. — THEODORE ROOSEVELT

How to get lucky:

*Luck,’ the cliché goes, ‘is the residue of diligence.’ As Gary Player once said, ‘The harder I practice, the luckier I get.’

“Over the years, we have had more than our share of luck. But over the years we have known how to take advantage of it – and we haven’t waited for it to hit us in the face.

This, indeed, is the essential difference between those who are ‘fortunate’ in business and those who aren’t. The group that is ‘naturally lucky’ can see the tiniest crack and turn it into a crevice. The group that ‘never gets a break’ wouldn’t see opportunity if it jumped up and down and then mugged them.

‘Getting lucky’ is mostly a matter of recognizing when you have been. Knowing then how to turn it into an edge is the easy part”

Turn Crises into Opportunities

“People tend to deal with crises only in terms of their potential for disaster. And yet, in a crisis, people are more on edge and agitated than they might otherwise be and their vulnerability can be turned into a great advantage.”

“One of the best rules I know is when a crisis occurs or is in the process of occurring, don’t react. Just say you’d like to think about it. Make any excuse, but don’t respond. Once you have analysed the crisis in terms of its potential for opportunity as well as its potential for disaster, then you can respond.

“It is still amazing to me how the simple passing of time can totally alter a situation, solve problems, render other problems meaningless, cool down confrontations and add a whole new perspective. ‘What goes around comes around’ should be tattooed on the chest of every new, hyperactive executive.”

  • Bad news often becomes meaningless with time.

They blurt out some indiscretion, or can’t check their need to ‘tell it like it is’, even when they are aware that it is in their own worst interest to do so. This, of course, is business immaturity, and it afflicts as many people in their forties, fifties and sixties as it does in their twenties and thirties.

  • Always be diplomatic.

Chapter 4

Getting Ahead

Key Takeaways:

  1. You need talent, persuasion skills, and an understanding of how the game is played. You sell yourself inside and outside the company.
  2. Every company has a hierarchy. You need to be able to adapt to reach the top.
  3. See your peers as your allies, not as your competition. This is the key to work relationships.
  4. To get ahead you have to know your company’s system and understand how to use it.
  5. Find and mitigate your personal weaknesses.
  6. Don’t use tricks to make yourself seem indispensable to the company. The only way to be indispensable is to have good values, fit the culture, and make the company more money than your salary costs.
  7. Always analyze and copy the strategy or tactics of people who have done what you want to do.
  8. Say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out” when you don’t know.
  9. Say, “I was wrong” when you were wrong. This gives you a cathartic release and allows you to move on.
  10. Say, “I need help” when you need help. Realize that the system is set up for getting and receiving help. The whole corporate assumption is that certain tasks, and effectiveness in accomplishing these tasks, are sometimes better achieved by groups than by individuals.
  11. Fit in at work, don’t make personal statements. Go with the company culture.
  12. It is important to know the system so that you can work through it. Too many people spend too much time fighting against the system. The best and brightest spend their time learning how to use it.
  13. Analyze how the business really works: Who are the decision-makers? Who’s hot and who’s not? What are the shortcuts and where are the back doors? How do things really get done?
  14. The projects people take on which are not part of their day-to-day job description, which have not been assigned to them, are those projects for which people get the most credit and recognition. This is how you differentiate yourself and become indispensable.
  15. The vast majority of people working in your company have absolutely no idea what you do there – including your boss. Compare notes with your boss. What does he think you are doing here, and what do others think you are doing here?
  16. Continually redefine your job. Take on new tasks and constantly create new challenges for yourself. If you reach a goal (personally or corporately), that goal should immediately become a step in the learning process towards another more ambitious goal. This is how people grow in their jobs, and grow in importance to their company.
  17. If you’re bored it’s your fault. You just aren’t working hard enough at making your job interesting. It is also probably the reason you haven’t been offered anything better. Find out what you love to do and you will be successful at it.

How to Impress Your Boss:

  1. COMMITMENT: If you feel anything less than total commitment to your job, don’t let the boss in on your little secret.
  2. ATTENTION TO DETAIL: Minor errors are (often) worse than large errors. Make sure your work is always complete and professional. Better to have late complete work than on-time incomplete work. Ex) A missing report, a failure to complete a little chore.
  3. IMMEDIATE FOLLOW-UP: As insignificant as this may seem, there is nothing that impresses so significantly.

Notes:

Assuming similar backgrounds and capabilities, why do some people shoot straight to the top while others seem to languish forever in the morass of middle management?

I think the overall answer lies in understanding the difference between capabilities and effectiveness, which is using those capabilities to achieve certain ends and results.

People who merely work up to their capabilities don’t become stars.

Those who are stars combine their capabilities with other things – know-how, people-sense, an understanding of how the game is played. They are usually achievers and can show results, but this is because they are effective in selling their ideas and themselves inside the company as well as outside the company.

“Is climbing the corporate ladder a game? Absolutely. In fact, it is several games all going on at the same time. If you care about your career, you should take these games seriously and want to play all of them well.

If you’re an employer, you should be constantly trying to recognize real talent and not to be misled by appearances. If you’re an employee you must figure out a way to let the true decision-makers know how good you really are, without making enemies of the people in between.”

“This can get complicated. You have got to be able to jump up several notches, to alert those several rungs above you to your talents. At the same time, you must make the middle guys think that, by supporting you and building you up to the top guy, they will look better as managers. You must also prevent these middle managers (who are looking out for their own interests) from stifling you or from appropriating your contributions as if they were indeed their own. Meanwhile, you must keep your peers as friends and maintain the support of your subordinates. It is not only complicated, it can also get pretty unpleasant, and is one of the big reasons so many people become turned off by working for a company.”

“Getting ahead is one of those real-world concerns of everyday business life that no textbook can prepare you for. An MBA – or a law or any other degree – can get you in the door. But once inside you need to find a way to let people know your real worth. Can you look good without necessarily making someone else look bad? Can you play the game without playing politics?

The answer, I believe, is yes, but the first step is knowing the rules that make up the game, acknowledging the hardcore realities that influence relationships within the corporate structure. These realities vary widely from company to company, but three general rules come to mind:”

RULE 1: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

Darwinism influences almost any pyramid-shaped structure, and the corporation is not only not an exception, it is probably the best example. There are simply not as many presidents as vice-presidents, there aren’t as many vice-presidents as there are managers, and so on. This means a natural antagonism, however subtle it may be, exists between different levels of management, different layers of the pyramid. A friend referred to it in his own highly politicized company as ‘a food chain’.”

  • You need to be the most adaptable to change.

RULE 2: YOUR PEERS ARE YOUR NATURAL ALLIES

It amazes me how often seemingly intelligent people are not very smart when it comes to recognizing this. If you alienate your peers, you won’t need any other corporate enemies.”

RULE 3: THERE IS ALWAYS A SYSTEM

‘The system’ may not be very desirable or even work but all companies have one. To get ahead you have to know your company’s system and understand how to use it. That’s the only way you can work within it, through it, or around it.”

The key to work relationships: develop an ongoing support system of friends and allies.

You need to think long term. Think: How can I make a good impression over the long term?

Being judged over the long haul also puts even more of a premium on patience, waiting for the right time to say or do something, knowing when to be visible and when to lay low.

Within the company, you are also more likely to be ‘found out’. Your real self is likely to emerge, and your weaknesses as well as your strengths are likely to be discovered. As a result, you must realize that ‘you get along’ by getting along.

  • Same as anything else, having friends and allies is a necessity.

Find and mitigate your weaknesses.

Don’t use tricks to make yourself seem indispensable to the company. The only way to be indispensable is to have good values, fit the culture, and make the company more money than your salary costs.

Since the nature and personality of one company varies from the next, I think the best way to find some ‘new tricks’ – that is, tricks that work – is to observe people in your own company who have risen quickly through the ranks.

  • Always analyze and copy the strategy or tactics of people who have done what you want to do.

Three hard-to-say phrases (that you should say):

  1. “I don’t know.”
  2. “I need help.”
  3. “I was wrong.”

Phrase 1: Say, “I dont know, but I will find out.” Not admitting what you don’t know can lead to suspicion about what you do know.

Phrase 2: People are often afraid to ask for help or to accept it because they believe that somehow this will show that they are inadequate in their job. If they would think about it for a moment, they would realize that the system is set up for getting and receiving help. The whole corporate assumption is that certain tasks, and effectiveness in accomplishing these tasks, are sometimes better achieved by groups than by individuals.

Not asking is such a short-sighted and narrow-minded view. Asking for help is the way you learn, expand your knowledge, your expertise and your value to the company. It also demonstrates a willingness to work with others.

Phrase 3: The people who are least secure about their abilities have the hardest time admitting their mistakes. They fail to realize that making a mistake and admitting it – owning up to it – are two totally separate acts. It is not the mistake itself but how a mistake is handled that forms the lasting impression.

I have seen some very capable executives get excited about their mistakes. They feel that by doing something wrong they may have learned something right, and can’t wait to try again.

An ability to say ‘I was wrong’ is essential to success because it’s cathartic. It allows these successful executives ‘to get on with it’, to put their mistakes behind them, and to move on to other things which may contribute to their next big success.

Obviously, no employer would have anyone working for him whom he didn’t trust. But I think in any company there are certain employees who are trusted more than others because their judgment and character are so solid.

“People do not like to feel they are being conned, and no one is going to support the career of a subordinate who is a little too secretive, a little too clever for his or her own good. If you feel the only way to get ahead is to con the people you work for, then you’d better be very good at covering yourself, because over the long term there are so many different ways you can be found out.”

“If you do have another job offer, but would like to remain with the company you work for, stress the importance of your loyalty. Instead of saying, ‘Look, they’ve offered me this. Either match it or top it or I’m out the door,’ find out how much more effective it is to use slightly different words: ‘Obviously, this is where my loyalties lie, and what can the company do so that I don’t have to take this other job?”

Everyone has a boss, even the US president can be fired every 4 years. Even a CEO can be fired by stakeholders. This is how you impress your boss, whoever it is:

“COMMITMENT

If you feel anything less than total commitment to your job, don’t let the boss in on your little secret.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL

The big screw-ups get aired and thereby psychologically exorcized. It’s the little ones, too minor to mention – a report that can’t be found, a failure to perform a little chore – which build up irritation and resentment.

IMMEDIATE FOLLOW-UP

As insignificant as this may seem, there is nothing that impresses so significantly.”

Fit in at work, don’t make personal statements. Go with the company culture.

This can involve any number of things, from the way someone dresses, to a refusal to accept or participate in a new system because ‘it’s a waste of time’, to setting his own hours, to catering to his own ego.

Self-assertion within the corporation is a very delicate thing. The trick is to conform – to know when to blend in – while sticking out at the same time.

Separate personal issues from corporate or substantive issues. Assert yourself only when the time and place are appropriate.

“It is important to know the system so that you can work through it. Too many people spend too much time fighting against the system. The best and brightest spend their time learning how to use it.”

Too many people spend too much time fighting against the system. The best and brightest spend their time learning how to use it. — Mark McCormack

“Every company has its secret organizational chart, and the system itself is the best clue to figuring out what it is. Understand how it’s supposed to work, and you will begin to understand how it really works. Who are the decision makers? Who’s hot and who’s not? What are the short cuts and where are the back doors? How do things really get done?”

“In order to be effective you have to develop lasting relationships inside the company as well as outside. The bigger the company, the more important this becomes.”

See your peers as your allies, not as your competition. If you can hitch your wagon to a few of your company’s brightest stars, you will climb right up the ladder with them.”

When you need something from another department, ask yourself, ‘What can I do to make it easier for them?

  • Ex) when a contract needs to be reviewed by the legal department, write a memo that lists any problems you see and how you would recommend fixing it.

“The quickest way to lose credibility is to rage about minor offenses because of a build-up over major ones. This is the corporate version of getting a divorce because your spouse squeezes toothpaste from the middle of the tube.”

Your effectiveness in a company is directly proportionate to your ability to leverage yourself: ‘How and where can I make the most impact in the least amount of time?

The projects people take on which are not part of their day-to-day job description, which have not been assigned to them, are those projects for which people get the most credit and recognition. This is how you differentiate yourself and become indispensable.

“The vast majority of people working in your company have absolutely no idea what you do there and the rest are laboring under misconceptions. If you were to write out what you do for the company and your immediate superior was to write out what he thought you did for the company, you would probably be amazed by the discrepancy.”

“Compare notes with your boss. What does he think you are doing here, and what do others think you are doing here? Once you can agree on the ‘givens’, you will be less shocked by the assumptions.”

Don’t get into heated conflicts with your boss. You will either lose your job or create long-term conflict.

Don’t allow the company you work for to switch your position into a losing proposition. Ex) if they ask you to run a company they just acquired. If it’s already successful, you’ll get no credit for a great job. And if it’s unsuccessful, you will fail and take credit for failing.

“I do, however, take precautions. I schedule time for exercise, relaxation and rest, including naps in the office, and I observe those time commitments just as I would any other business time commitments.”

The key to working long hours is to break from work-related stress when you break from work.

I find that I am redefining my job all the time, taking on new tasks, or constantly creating new challenges for myself. If I reach some goal, either personally or corporately, that goal immediately becomes a step in the learning process towards another more ambitious goal. This, I believe, is how people grow in their jobs, and grow in importance to their company.

If you’re bored it’s your fault. You just aren’t working hard enough at making your job interesting. It is also probably the reason you haven’t been offered anything better. Find out what you love to do and you will be successful at it.

Chapter 5

The Problem of Selling

Key Takeaways:

  1. We are natural salesmen but we second guess ourselves and lose the ability in adulthood.
  2. Some people find selling beneath them, others find it intrusive. And almost all of us fear rejection. We shouldn’t fear rejection because situations change and emotions change. “If you aren’t afraid to fail, then you probably don’t care enough about success.”
  3. Timing is intuitive and essential. Timing applies to sales, business, dating, etc. People with good timing are really those people who are most sensitively attuned to themselves, to their customers (others), and to the selling situation itself.
  4. Always keep timing strategy in mind. How can you use timing to influence or persuade?
  5. The salesman controls the timing of a sale, but he takes his cues from the buyer.
  6. Selling is what they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School. Business schools admit that their purpose is to train managers, thereby almost totally overlooking the fact that if there are no sales there is nothing to manage.
  7. Effective selling is directly tied to timing, patience and persistence
  8. It also helps to believe in your product. When I feel that what I am selling is really right for someone, that it simply makes sense for this particular customer, I never feel I am imposing. I feel that I am doing him a favor.
  9. So much of selling a product, a service, anything, is selling yourself, putting your own ego on the line. And what are the odds? If you’re pretty good, you’re probably going to fail half the time. Rejection, as they say, comes with the territory.

Notes:

“Unconsciously, we are already employing many of the aspects of selling: powers of persuasion; the art of negotiation; and the ultimate teenager’s tactic – ‘Never take “no” for an answer.”

We are natural salesmen but we second guess ourselves and lose the ability in adulthood.

“But the real problems of selling have little to do with aptitude and almost everything to do with how we perceive the process of selling itself. Some people find it beneath them, others find it intrusive. And almost all of us fear the rejection.

  • Situations change and emotions change.

Timing has any number of direct applications to selling. It can govern anything from the time span over which a sale is made, to when in a particular conversation to say something, to when under a particular set of circumstances to do something.

Timing itself is not pragmatic. It is not a precept or a set of rules that can be followed, but a percept – sensory signals that are picked up by the brain and then applied to the selling situation.

When you combine the perceptory nature of time with all the timing intangibles of selling – how long an idea should germinate, when to make a particular phone call, etc. – correct or appropriate timing is almost always a judgement call.”

“What this means is that those people who seem to be blessed with an innate sense of good timing are really those people who are most sensitively attuned – to themselves, to their customers, and to the selling situation itself. Almost any deal, whether it’s a simple transaction or a complex series of manoeuvres covering several years, gives off its own unique sensory signals, which are there for anyone to pick up.”

“Even though I knew we had what he wanted, it was obvious to me that if our concept was to look inspired, I had to allow some time to pass between his problem and our solution. If I called him back the next day, he would wonder just how much brilliant conceptual thinking had actually taken place. But by giving him a precise time when I would be calling, he would not only wait for the call; he would be anxious to hear from me.”

  • Always keep timing strategy in mind. How can you use timing to influence or persuade?

The salesman controls the timing of a sale, but he takes his cues from the buyer. — Mark McCormack

“As both a salesman and someone who runs a company, I can think of no aspect of timing that is more important than patience. Lack of patience alone is enough to blow a deal, while the application of it – letting someone ramble on philosophically while waiting out a particular situation – can singlehandedly turn a deal around.”

Timing applies to getting a job. When employers are looking to hire (if they are growing or if there are labor shortages like after Covid-19), it is easier to get a job. When a company is at capacity or when there are too many people looking for work, it is harder to get a job.

“People are more likely to believe that the quickest way to the top is through management training. There is some truth to this, but to presume that management skills obviate the need for sales skills is a dangerous form of self-deception. I have yet to meet a chairman or a CEO of a major corporation who didn’t pride himself on his powers of persuasion – or, in other words, his salesmanship.

Selling is what they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School. Business schools admit that their purpose is to train managers, thereby almost totally overlooking the fact that if there are no sales there is nothing to manage. This escapes a lot of newly minted MBAs, who in their desire to run a company may find sales, the techniques involved, the art of selling, beneath them.”

Selling is difficult because it is an intrusion. People hate to impose, to make waves. Have you ever found yourself nodding in agreement to something with which you totally disagree? Have you ever thought about sending back an overdone steak, then changed your mind?

A feeling that selling is intrusive is not a problem. It is an asset. The best salesmen all seem to have a sixth sense about this. They can tell by the tone in someone’s voice or the atmosphere in the room when the mood or timing is wrong. And either because they don’t want to impose, or because they know that it is not in their own best interests to do so, they will not antagonize their customer by attempting to make a sale.

The old foot-in-the-door school of high-pressure, super-assertive techniques has gone the way of the dinosaur.

  • Hard selling was never very effective.

Effective selling is directly tied to timing, patience and persistence – and to sensitivity to the situation and the person with whom you are dealing. An awareness of when you are imposing can be the most important personal asset a salesman can have.

It also helps to believe in your product. When I feel that what I am selling is really right for someone, that it simply makes sense for this particular customer, I never feel I am imposing. I feel that I am doing him a favor.


Fear is the single biggest problem people have with selling: fear of rejection, fear of failure.

  • So much of selling a product, a service, anything, is selling yourself, putting your own ego on the line. And what are the odds? If you’re pretty good, you’re probably going to fail half the time. Rejection, as they say, comes with the territory.

“Realizing that it isn’t personal doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it personally. If you don’t, in fact, it may mean that you haven’t put enough of yourself into the effort.

Fear of failure is another problem that people have with selling. Sales results are so tangible, so measurable in black and white, there is no place to run or hide.

But what many people don’t appreciate is that fear of failure is one of the greatest positive motivators in business. If you aren’t afraid to fail, then you probably don’t care enough about success.”

“Björn Borg had a reputation for being an iceman on the court. But he once told me that on key points he was always terrified, that sometimes it would take all the courage he could muster just to put the ball in play.

This was true as well of Arnold Palmer, and I believe this very human quality had more to do with his enormous popularity than all the tournaments he won. His fear of failure was so strong because his desire for success was so great. And when he failed, when he missed a shot, you could see the pain etched on his face, and you knew he cared.”

Chapter 6

Timing

“Many ideas fail not because they are bad ideas, nor because they are poorly executed, but because the timing is not correct.”

“A lot of salespeople are far too quick to write off a good idea simply because their timing was bad. If someone says ‘no’ to a project or an idea, it is not always because he doesn’t like the idea or the project. It may be simply that for economic reasons or for other internal reasons you don’t know about, it simply doesn’t work for that particular person at that particular moment.

Yet weeks, months, even years later, you will hear ‘So-and-so doesn’t like that project,’ or ‘Such-and-such company has already said “no” to that,’ or ‘They don’t have the money for it.”

  • Ideas need to be reevaluated at this moment in time. A bad idea from 5 years ago might be good today. A good idea right now might be terrible in 5 years.

“If you believe in an idea, and if you believe that the idea should make sense for a particular customer, go back again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an idea bear fruit when it is presented again at a more auspicious moment.”

  • Try an idea again in 5 years. Something may have changed and it could be a great idea now.

The simple movement of a clock, the flipping of a calendar can totally alter the dynamics of a selling situation and the receptivity of the buyer.