Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I’ve met quite a few Harvard graduates over the years.
I’ve heard it said they can be a touch self-regarding. My own impression is that some, at least, can instinctively regard others with a casual disdain.
No, of course I’m not specifically referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg here. He didn’t graduate.
A recent conversation with a Harvard graduate, however, drew me to a story about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Bezos went to lowly Princeton. In 1997, however, he gave a little talk to some Harvard graduate business students about his online store known as Amazon.
As Brad Stone’s book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon relates, the large-brained students began to chat among themselves as if Bezos weren’t there.
Then, one of the fine Harvardians told Bezos:
You seem like a really nice guy, so don’t take this the wrong way, but you really need to sell to Barnes & Noble and get out now.
Naturally, many will chuckle at the realization that Amazon’s position is a touch more secure than Barnes & Noble’s these days.
But there’s one profound lesson here and one that’s truly glorious.
When you have a business based on a vision of the future, rather than the present, understand that the majority of your critics will likely be looking from the perspective of the present.
They see now and they have a certain belief how now will influence the future.
Sometimes, though, now will be rendered swiftly irrelevant by a fast-moving future. And the future we’re currently living in has moved at far too fast a pace for many people’s liking.
Ignore, then — as Bezos surely did — anyone who criticizes your business using a framework of the right now. (Barnes & Noble is much bigger, so duh…)
Here’s the more glorious lesson. It comes from the words this graduate student used:
You seem like a really nice guy, so don’t take this the wrong way…
If a potential investor — or even a self-confident critic — patronizes you by telling you that you seem like a nice guy/woman/person, understand that they are piffleheads. And, preferably, avoid them in the future.
It’s easy to feel hurt by such words. But they say everything about the speaker and nothing about you.
The speaker is merely judging you to be inferior and crudely attempting to let you down “gently.” They’re not giving you anything useful. And by adding “don’t take this the wrong way,” they’re merely telling you how they want you to react — passively.
Of course, many have debated whether Bezos is, indeed, a really nice guy. He can often seem like a touchingly heartless, ruthless billionaire.
I suspect, though, that in the pre-muscular days of 1997, he was so nerdy that he may not have dwelled too long on the Harvard student’s bloviation. That was the year Amazon went public, so Bezos was likely busy preparing investors for prolonged losses.
No, not everyone will end up being Jeff Bezos. I wonder, though, whether he ever pauses to think what became of that graduate student.
What are the chances he’s currently working for, I don’t know, a bank? And what are the chances he seems like a really nice guy?