A few habits of successful people

November 2012

While in response to the Dear Ms. Shednails piece no (or simply no good?) copies of complaint letters have shown up in my computer, I do seem to have received the following from one Whyde Eide. S/he must have been writing from some rocky place where the way of life would seem quite foreign to the vast healthy-happy majority of us.

In trying to study the habits of successful people, at least in the large organization in which I work, the first thing I noticed was that the people above me, the “senior managers,” seemed to spend a good deal of their time forwarding to me and my colleagues and to other senior staff e-mails that I had already received from other sources. For instance, if the human resources department has sent a message about classes being offered on how to prepare a résumé and look for a new job, my supervisor, the head of our administrative division and at least one of my more ambitious colleagues will have also forwarded this message to me and to a hundred other people.

I wondered if I could write a book about this and sent a query to a literary agent in New York. After some months I received a reply from an intern saying that agency policy required at least ten items in all “list books.” If I would only send her nine other habits of successful people, she would be delighted to forward my proposal to one of the agent’s assistants. The intern, also, in a handwritten a note asked, “How could this extra and seemingly unnecessary e-mail forwarding at your office possibly help your colleagues get promotions and become ‘successful,’ as you say they do?”

I wasn’t sure if she was being skeptical or asking for practical advice. Nevertheless I spent several months doing more studying and taking whatever notes I could, but none of the other things I came up with seemed to interest either the intern or any assistant. I wrote, for example, that the successful and ambitious in my organization attend more meetings than everyone else and send out e-mails thanking people who, instead of going to meetings, produce things or provide services. The thanks make it sound like this latter work—producing things and providing services—is something quite rare and exemplary. There is also a sort of between-the-lines reminder that, nevertheless, thanking is of course a higher-level task and thus the thanker herself or himself is, understandably, deserving of other, quite different kinds of thanks such as promotions and pay raises. To be among those thanked via mass e-mailings, I have come to feel, might be an indication of the thanklessness of one’s task.

I also found myself wondering about a certain absence of complexity (or of intelligence?) among the most prolific e-mail forwarders and thankers. Given that our budget and staff have had to be cut almost every year for as long as I can remember, it might seem that someone with new ideas would rise quickly to the top. But I can also see how it could be a little stressful to deal with people whose minds work quickly, who keep “thinking outside the box” and challenging the traditional ways of working.

I find myself reminded sometimes of how illiterate people supposedly learn clever ways of disguising their inability to read. I wonder if at some point it would not simply be easier to learn how to read. But I am probably wrong about this and also about the people around me who are getting ahead. They might have found that stupidity is a good disguise. I do think that it would be easier for me to forward some of the e-mails I receive (e.g., from human resources) if I were not able to read them.

One comment

  1. Via e-mail I received from someone who works in a large organization the following comment on this post:

    “My friend [name excised] decided today that since he was the acting chief of our service, he should also start forwarding e-mails we had all received already. But because he is still inexperienced, he could not help writing us that he knew we had received it, but he felt he should sent it again anyway!!”

    Odd as it may seem to write this, this e-mail confirmed my feeling that Whyde Eide is on to something.

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