I never thought I could do sales

Years ago, when I was working as a management consultant, I had a four-month gig (that turned into a yearlong project) in northeast Brazil working on the privatization of six cellphone companies.  It was a dream assignment for me – new location, high impact, I spoke the language and had the chance to share what I’d seen in other markets.  Kind of what they say management consulting can be but rarely is.

The American guy running our four-person team, 10 years my senior, had started his career as a salesman.  He sold photocopiers.  This guy cemented my image of the prototypical sales guy: at the end of a 14 hour work day, when all I wanted to do was head back to my hotel room and decompress, he’d head straight to the hotel bar.  He was one of the most extroverted, garrulous, outgoing people I’ve ever met, always ready with a wink, a smile, and a strong slap on the back.

This guy was a walking, talking stereotype.  Unbeknownst to him, I let him do me an incredible disservice.

“I’m not that guy,” I told myself for more than a decade.  “I’m not most comfortable in a room full of strangers.  I don’t love making small talk.  I’m not always the most outgoing, talkative guy in the room.  So I can’t do sales.”

As I repeated this story to myself, I closed doors.  I limited myself.  I didn’t understand that just because I didn’t fit that mold didn’t mean that I couldn’t do this work.

I bring what I bring to the table.  And you bring what you bring.  It’s up to both of us to decide what to do with our talents.

But slamming doors before we’ve ever tried to walk through them?  Then we have no one to blame but ourselves when our path forward isn’t what we’d hoped it would be.


I know it’s here somewhere

My wife likes to needle me for (according to her) not being good at looking for things.  Needless to say, I disagree.

(Admittedly, I did recently speak to a senior marketer at Proctor and Gamble who told me that P&G has done studies in homes in which they move one or two items in the pantry, and women crush men in their ability to figure out what was moved….something about how men and women’s memories about of spatial relations are fundamentally different.)

I didn’t help my case when, the other day, I failed to find the little needle for the bike pump, so I could inflate a soccer ball.  This tiny needle floats around our house, usually in the “junk drawer” that’s full of pens, keys, stickers, and other small household overflow items.  I rifled through the drawer twice and convinced myself if wasn’t there.

My wife came downstairs, opened the drawer, and pulled the darn thing out in about two seconds.

Friendly marital banter aside, here’s what I’ve begun to understand: we look in a different ways when we’re sure something is there.  And this isn’t just about keys and pens and tomato sauce.

It goes something like this: if you’re not sure something is there, you’re looking in order to 1) Confirm/refute your hypothesis that the thing is there AND 2) Find the thing.  Conversely, if you’re sure something is there, you’re just working #2, on finding the thing.  Evidence along the way that indicates that it’s not there is summarily ignored.

This applied to all proverbial needles in haystacks, to problems big and small.  Knowing the answer is out there – you just have to find it – is a completely different undertaking than looking around, not sure if the answer is out there in the first place.  If you do the latter, you’re likely to throw in the towel far too soon, and you’re also likely to look in the wrong places. If you’re sure the answer is out there, you hang on to that conviction doggedly.

This is why looking tentatively is so problematic; why high-paid consultants often end up confirming what we already knew and discourage us from pushing boundaries into the unknown; it’s why great entrepreneurs distinguish themselves.

The chorus of naysayers loves to jeer that a better way isn’t out there.  And they win when we give up, because it confirms their own fears and the status quo that they love so much.

The thing is, a better way IS out there. And you’re going to find it if you look hard enough.