Monday, December 10, 2007

Sometimes It Isn't What You Know, But Who You Know

A good lawyer knows the law, a great lawyer knows the judge. That's one of my Dad's favorite lines, and it definitely has rung true in my experience with the court system. While it pays to know your field, it often pays more to know someone important in your field. One example I like to give people from my college days refers to "legacy" students - students who get to attend a college mostly because of their relation to alumni.

"The only student I knew who got into UGA as a legacy shared a last name with at least one street and one building," I tell people. What do I mean by that? Since her grandfather had given many thousands (if not millions), she got to attend the school even though some of her classmates in high school with better scores did not. To her credit, she did graduate, which suggests she belonged there in the end, but many people never get that chance to show what they can accomplish. They were not "born with a silver spoon" in their mouths or, more likely, did not have the privilege to encounter people who could help them move up more quickly. Unfortunately, most people do not get to the top simply by their own merits. They knew someone who knew someone or who had a company that did something.... and then one day they became CEO.

One of my best professors in accounting told our class what he considered the two most important classes a business student could take outside the business school (he may have even asid outside of accounting): golf and ballroom dancing. If you can golf, you can impress your boss or your clients on outings. If you can dance, you can impress his wife, which is often equally important. My MBA classmate who had the highest salary before coming back to school was a B/C or straight C student in accounting, but he had drive, charisma, and knew how to sell. I would not be surprised to see his face on BusinessWeek or some other periodical some day. He knew how to recruit good people to accomplish his tasks. The best leaders do not necessarily know how to do everything well, but they know who can do a particular thing well, and they find out what enticement will get that person to do that thing well for their business or project.

I think genius is beautiful. I appreciate seeing someone with a wonderful skill or particular acumen for some subject achieve great things. I just hope the next great thinker to come along knows well enough how to work the system to let me be able to watch their life story on some cable channel some day - or whatever great invention it is they bring along to let me watch it somehow or somewhere new.

-- Robert

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