Success is kind of like pornography, hard to define but you know it when you see it. Putting aside, for the moment, the precise definition of success, is the achievement of it due to luck or hard work? Or is it based on intelligence--what you know--or does it just boil down to who you know? I enjoyed the commentary on the subject over at Sightings at 60 but in the end, I’m going with Penelope Trunk on this one. It’s not how hard you work or how lucky or smart you are. It’s how likeable you are.
Sure, success means different things to different people. I spent 18 years at a very successful venture capital firm, and by successful, I mean by all definitions of the word. At the end of that time, I was able to retire comfortably at the age of 44. And I am fortunate to enjoy good health and the company of wonderful friends and family. Actually that is the exact definition from Webster’s: favorable or desired outcome.
I was a lousy college student, graduating with a GPA that’s not even fit to print, a fact which this New York Magazine article makes me feel a whole lot better about. Let’s just say I’m no rocket scientist. Why did they choose me for the job? Why did they keep me around for so long? Despite my sorry excuse for a GPA, why was I able to achieve success? I think it’s because they liked me.
According to Harvard Business School faculty research likability matters more than you might think:
We found that if someone is strongly disliked, it's almost irrelevant whether or not she is competent; people won't want to work with her anyway. By contrast, if someone is liked, his colleagues will seek out every little bit of competence he has to offer. And this tendency didn't exist only in extreme cases; it was true across the board. Generally speaking, a little extra likability goes a longer way than a little extra competence in making someone desirable to work with.
Despite my poor performance in college, I was quite competent at my job. But there are certainly many other candidates that would have been quite competent as well. Now accountants aren’t generally known for their social skills, an overused stereotype to be sure. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to be one of the sociable ones. Penelope Trunk explains:
As the need for social skills at work grows, the bar for good social skills gets higher. Until the 1970s, a smart child uninterested in playground politics was considered eccentric but okay. Since the 1980s, educators see the playground as essential training for the future, and kids who can't navigate are often sent to experts for extra help with social skills.
To this day, I am very good at the playground.
This is a post from Retirement: A Full-Time Job