A couple of days ago I finished watching Super Pumped, Hulu’s short series on the story of Uber creation, giving much space to portraying genius but arrogant Uber’s founder Travis Kalanick (brilliant acting by Joseph Gordon-Levitt btw!). His final words (excerpt below) made me thinking … do you need to be/become ruthless, driven by self-interest only, to succeed?
Someone really dear to me, who is well respected in corporate business, told me that the higher up the ladder you go, the less people tend to be human. Taking advantage of your weaknesses; naivety, lack of knowledge or your rights. Whatever it may be, they will think to their own benefit wringing you out. Like this saying goes: “Give them a finger, and they’ll take the whole hand“.
For me personally, human connection is incredibly important. Business is people and I want to feel good when dealing with clients and partners. I want to feel excited for making connections, solving challenges, brainstorming and spending time together. The moment I feel like the other party is looking down on me, I cut that tie if I can even if I know that if I played nice, I would have gotten something out of it.
I sometimes regret but I’ve never been good in political games. I see some of my friends and acquaintances planning their moves few steps ahead like in chess – whom to become an ally with, whom to endorse, whom to degrade or assign a dead-end role. And while I think it’s important to hedge your risks and opportunities, I think it should never be at the cost of losing your own moral spine (but then again, people have different definitions of what’s evil and unfair…).
For me, no business opportunity it worth losing nerves. The beauty of entrepreneurship is that you create your own opportunities so when one is unsuitable, you go and find another one that fits your definition of fairness and truth. Or maybe I’m just being naive. Yes, I’m definitely being naive.
Like Travis’s character pointed – all the big guns, Jobs, Gates, Musk… – will all your awe and appreciation for their greatness, you can sense A BIT of their asshole’sness – can’t you?
Are there many powerful, influential and kind business people out there? Maybe Canva founders? (They are Aussies so that goes without saying).
I have this privilege of choosing the people and businesses I enter professional relationships with (but of course, when you’re selling to enterprise, you’re selling to large groups and within those, there are people you may not want to grab beer with). You want to make an allies and your advocates and when there is a genuine friendship, it comes naturally. Yet, all the terms of partnership should be discussed up front and there should be nothing left unclarified. This is a fertile ground for misunderstandings and when the honeymoon is over, things can escalate quickly.
You have to have a balance though. Be friendly but firm. Transparent but not naive. Protecting yourself legally for when the things get sour (that’s why signing contracts in the times of peace is so crucial, when emotions take over, it’s hard to be logical!). Balance is key to keeping yourself safe and content.
Show your gratitude, because we never reach our goals alone. As the writer George Matthew Adams. once said:
“There is no such thing as a “self-made man”. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the makeup of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.”.
I’m a big believer of paying it forward. Yes, you worked hard but don’t ever forget you were in a position in your life when you needed help. When you give and give wholeheartedly you will receive twice as much back in some way, shape, or form.