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10 Things I’ve Learned Along The Way

2011 February 20
by Greg Satell

Some things we learn in school.  Others, our parents tell us when we’re young.  Still others (often, the most interesting) kids told us in the playground at school.

However, when we go out into the world, we find that we’re poorly equipped to deal with much that life throws at us.  We fumble around, often fail and have to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off.  That’s when we learn life’s most important lessons.

Here are ten things I’ve learned in my travels.

1. Work With Nice People

At the start of a business relationship, everything seems great and hopes are high.  Later, when everything turns to crap, we ask, “How did it all go wrong?”  That’s a question with a thousand answers (or maybe none at all).

One litmus test I have come up with that has improved my averages considerably is to always strive to work with nice people.  When you work with nice people, you can always work out the problems which inevitably arise.  You don’t have to constantly watch your back and can focus on the work at hand.

Besides, it’s more fun and rewarding than working with jerks.

2. Fire Nasty People

This is a corollary to the one above, but important enough to treat separately.  We often have people working for us that are highly competent professionally, but…well…nasty.  What to do?

Over the years, I’ve learned to just get rid of them and as fast as possible.    Invariably, they’re more trouble than they’re worth.  As for competence, a true professional is somebody that solves more problems than they cause, so they usually lose on that score as well.

Most of all, research shows that firing nasty people works.  When you fire a nasty person, you also send a message to everybody else that being nasty is no way to get ahead, which promotes a culture of niceness, collaboration and excellence.  So there’s no reason to be conflicted.  Fire away!

3. Make the First Offer

Okay, I’m cheating here.  This one I learned from a professor at Stanford, but have road tested extensively.  In negotiations, it’s usually best to make the first offer, unless you are at a significant informational disadvantage.

This goes against most people’s instincts (including my own).  However, it helps frame the negotiation to your advantage.  As any good student of game theory knows, how a negotiation is framed can mean the difference between profit and loss.

Moreover, if you are unwilling to make the first offer, it’s a sign that you aren’t sufficiently prepared and therefore are depending on your opponent to give you the information you need through an offer.  That’s not a good place to be.

4. Limit Your Options

One advantage of making the first offer is that you get to decide on structure.  Here, I’ve found one simple rule that’s been very helpful:

Strive to limit variables on your side, while at the same time maximize the variables on the other side.

This makes the other guy do most of the work and limits what he can throw at you.  After all, since you structured the offer, any options he has to choose from will suit your interests.  Further, if he’s depending on implicit information, you have the opportunity to include a red herring.

5. When In Doubt, Leave It Out

I like to consider this my own personal version of Occam’s Razor.  In actuality, I stole it from someone I worked with in Moscow (see # 8).  In any case, I find it extremely useful.

Whenever we’re working on a presentation, business plan, web site or whatever, we always come to a point where we’re not sure if we should include something or not.  Invariably, it’s better to leave it out.

If it turns out to be important, you can always add it later.  Erring on the side of parsimony saves time, effort and money and usually delivers a better product.

6. Re-send E-Mails

Okay, this is a tough one.  You’ve sent a request that’s been ignored.  You’re not sure if the other person missed your e-mail, forgot about it or is just ignoring you.  What should you do?

I’ve found that often the best course is to simply send the same (or similar) e-mail without acknowledging the previous one.  It’s a bit uncomfortable and makes you feel like an idiot, but for whatever reason, seems to work.  Try it sometime!

7. Wait For An Answer To Appear, but Don’t Sit On Decisions Once You’ve Made Them

Sometimes an issue arises and you don’t have any idea what to do.  If the matter isn’t urgent, simply put it on the shelf for a week or two.  I’ve been amazed how often a perfect solution just seems to present itself and it’s rare that something can’t wait a few weeks.

On the other hand, once you know what needs to be done, don’t dilly dally.  Uncomfortable decisions don’t get any easier as time passes.  If anything, they become more difficult and less effective.

Of course, you’ll be wrong sometimes and that means you’re going to have a mess to clean up.  Nevertheless, it’s better to find that out sooner rather than later.

8. Don’t Think Up Something Yourself When You Can Steal From Someone Else

Originality is overrated.  If you see a good solution somewhere else, there’s no reason to come up with one of your own.  Web developers are masters at this.  Good ones will always search for code that they can “borrow” before they start from scratch.

One of the greatest benefits of stealing solutions is that it frees up a lot of time to work on important questions without easy answers.

9. Don’t Chase Money

Making personal decisions for financial reasons is almost always a mistake.  It will invariably make you unhappy and hurt your career performance.  This, of course, will end up costing you in the long term.  If you are happy and fulfilled, you will contribute more and that will open up opportunities.

Chasing money will bring you nothing, not even money.

10. Keep an Open Mind

By nature and disposition, I’m not what you would call an especially tolerant person.  In fact, I’m downright irascible.  Whenever I hear something new, my first inclination is to blurt out, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!”

However, in time spent in lots of very different places where there are very different ideas about doing things, I’ve learned that people often have good reasons for doing what they do, even if their methods seem strange at first.

Over the years, I’ve built up a second inclination to reflect on why people think differently than I do.  It doesn’t override my first inclination as much as it should, but I’m working on it!

So those are ten things I’ve picked up along the way.  I’d love to hear some that you’ve come across.  So if you have something good, or opinions about what I’ve written above, don’t be shy and drop a note in the comments.

– Greg

30 Responses leave one →
  1. February 20, 2011

    Like it!

    One of the best bits of advice I was given was presented in 20 letters by an old sales director:

    If it is to be it is up to me


  2. February 20, 2011

    Thanks, Simon. My high school wrestling coach had the same one, There was even a sign in our wrestling room:-)

    – Greg

  3. February 20, 2011

    Great blog post Greg. Here is what I have learnt over the years are:
    1. Use the right leadership style to nurture people. I have leveraged situational leadership method to direct, coach, support and mentor people and it has been very beneficial.
    2. Change is hard for most of us. Leveraging leading change framework and good communications has helped me to make decisions and helped me to be open to make changes as needed.
    3. Networking with the right intent is very important. If your intent is not right, your language during your conversations make it very transparent. Especially when you are working with Jerks, watch out!
    4. I also believe in making the first offer and it is a great advice. It is better than no offer. It also puts you into leadership position. You are leading the conversation rather than following it.. Great advice Greg!

    Have a great day!

  4. February 20, 2011

    Thanks Chiantra. Great point about leadership and nurturing people. The lunatics always run the asylum. The best management can do is ensure that they run it right:-)

    – Greg

  5. Olga Shchu permalink
    February 21, 2011

    I think you forgot one important advice – Keep it simple so that even your mother can understand it 🙂 I often remember this one when making presentations or trying to explain ideas to other people

  6. February 21, 2011


    That’s one of my favorite too. I stopped using it on my blog though when some people objected to the wording. So for now, I’ll just stick with “when in doubt, leave it out:-)”

    – Greg

  7. February 21, 2011

    Nice points. Somethings that have helped me over the years are…

    1. Take a decision for positive reasons.

    2. Working on assignments that build on strengths. Consequently, know when to say No.

    3. The relationship is important and being graceful helps.

  8. February 21, 2011

    Good ones! Thanks.

    – Greg

  9. February 21, 2011

    Hi Greg,

    Here are some of my key learnings:

    – You can change every aspect of yourself, if you really want to.
    – Only engaged employees produce exciting results.
    – It is very motivating to work from your passion and your strengths.
    – The invisible (culture) has a higher impact that the visible (strategy).
    – Change is knowing how to master the currents.
    – Pay equal attention to employer branding, customer branding and personal branding.
    – E + R = O
    – You cannot change other people or the past.
    – There is so much to learn, people use only three to four percent of their brain’s capacities.
    – The more detached you are, the more you see.
    – The most effective leaders are the ones who are the most insatiable learners, and experienced leaders learn the most by interacting with people whose interests, backgrounds, and experiences are the least like theirs

  10. February 21, 2011


    Thanks for the list. I especially like the last one about pushing out of your comfort zone. many people who think they have 20 years of experience actually only have one repeated 20 times.

    – Greg

  11. February 21, 2011

    Exactly! That is why the current global challenges (e.g. financial, politics, business, climate) are not solved and are even getting worse. Everything is connected, but when you look with blinders on, you only see that particular aspect and you miss the other (key) connections.
    For instance, the financial guys (who have that 20 years or more experience in looking after their own bonuses) don’t see the impact which they have had on mortgages and people who had to seel their house and can no longer afford to send them to college etc.

    What is needed are these different perspectives and real different experiences to address these challenges.

  12. February 21, 2011

    Absolutely true!

    – Greg

  13. February 22, 2011

    Very good advices. Thank you for most of them 🙂

  14. February 23, 2011


    Glad you liked most of them:-)

    – Greg

  15. Shobhit permalink
    February 23, 2011

    I generally read your blog for business related knowledge, but since I am looking for a partner for long term relationship these days, I am looking at everything with this perspective.

    Surprisingly, It is true for my “that” search also 🙂


  16. February 23, 2011

    Nice to hear. Good luck with your search!

    – Greg

  17. February 23, 2011

    Thanks for sharing your list Greg. I especially like the work with nice people and fire the nasty ones.

    I would add – treat others as you want to be treated – simple but amazing how many people don’t.

    all the best,

  18. February 23, 2011

    Great Sue! Also know as Kant’s categorical imperative: Don’t embark on any action that you wouldn’t want to be a universal principle.


    – Greg

  19. Nick permalink
    February 24, 2011

    Hey Greg,
    thanks for this list, and thank you all who have contributed their thoughts.
    I’d add:
    – Bold thruth, most of the conflicts are about expectations! Therefore building right expectations and being consisten along the way is key.

    – Managament in our time is in fact change management. Embark on Kotter’s book and work it from there to be able to see every business project in terms of “what changes do we bring into organisational setting”. This shows still too oftenly ignored “soft” side of change (that is actually the hardest side:)

    Hope this helps,

  20. February 24, 2011

    Great ones! Thanks Nick.

    – Greg

  21. February 26, 2011

    Thanks for sharing your personal rules, Greg! I like simple principles too like many people but also watch to not be captured by them.

  22. February 26, 2011

    Thanks Stan. How is your business going?

    – Greg

  23. February 26, 2011

    I am currently working on my IT Project Management blog. As you advised me, I am trying to get the first 10 posts done before I start publishing them.

  24. February 26, 2011

    Good luck with it!

    – Greg

  25. February 28, 2011

    I really agree with your comments in regarding keeping an open mind. I have found in my corporate, entrepreurial, and volunteer work life that it is so very beneficial to hear people out; ask questions for clarification; and serioulsy consider all points of view. It is sometime difficult to be patient but it pays off in long run – either in better results or, at the very least, better relationships.

    I would add to the list that sometime it pays to just let things ‘percolate’….especially when you are fatigued and things seem (unnecessarily) urgent, discouraging, and/or overwhelming. Rather than force action, I find just going with the flow for 24 hours diminishes the anxiety and yields a more informed result.

    Last but not least, totally agree with the whole notice of keeping things simple….and systematic……key in every aspect of organizations.

  26. February 28, 2011

    Thanks Donna. Great advice on “letting things percolate.” Have a great week!

    – Greg

  27. Jenny permalink
    March 1, 2011

    Great list, Greg.

    I would add:

    – Live by the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you have them do unto you. I’m not religious but have always thought this was a pretty good place start in any relationship

    – E is for empathy but that doesn’t mean you have to have a rainbows and unicorns majikal view of the world, just that – at the very least – you genuinely attempt to imagine the experience of others/your impact on the experience of others

    – Very few people are what they appear. When you find people who are, build relationships with them for these are, and will continue to be, the real connections that matter

    Thanks for a great post and blog – I really enjoy reading your words of wisdom.

  28. March 1, 2011

    Love those! Thanks!

    (Although, a unicorn every now and then would be nice…)

    – Greg

  29. Jenny permalink
    March 1, 2011

    Thanks, Greg.

    A unicorn now and then would be nice – I totally agree!

    One other thing I meant to add is that this is not a dress rehearsal. We don’t get many – if any – chances to do things over so . . . what we do every day matters.

  30. March 1, 2011

    I couldn’t agree more. Thx:-)

    – Greg

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