Dean Clough

April 13, 2022

Portico Darwin: Being Right vs. Being Effective

Today is an aspirational post, and it's personal.   But at least it's pretty long!

Ever since my departure from TEECOM, I've been working on a few things:

  • Getting over my departure from TEECOM (!)
  • Staying relevant in retirement
  • Letting go of family baggage
  • Reducing my political and social pontificating, at least with those I know don't agree

Successful?  To varying degrees and I'll let you be the judge. 

But I will add one more, and it's something at which I could be much, much better.  In fact, as I reflect, this has clearly hurt me my entire professional career, and personally, too:

I am often right, but not as effective as I could be.

What do I mean by that?  Well, if you know me, you know I have a fairly healthy ego - some of which is earned, other aspects most certainly not.  But, objectively, I'm reasonably bright.  And as I do a lot of reading on (and am generally interested in) a variety of topics, I tend to be fairly informed on a given matter at hand.   

In business environments, it can be worse.  Being older and entrepreneurial puts a certain chip on my shoulder, of the "been there, done that" variety.   Another word for it is arrogance.  Perhaps some of it is justified; I've been extremely fortunate to have done some very fun things in business.  But the fact is, all of that, plus having a BS in Systems Analysis (which makes me thinks things through to painful levels of detail) and being a lifelong project/program manager (which makes me bossy) all add up to make me often right, but not effective.

I never knew what my father meant when he told me my entire life, "Portico, the problem is not what you say, but how you say it."  But I'm starting to get it; here are a couple of examples, separated by decades.

In the mid 1990s, I co-founded and was responsible for all of the tech at a telecom start-up.  Our investors and the company's CEO were completely enamored by a new technology, one that could revolutionize certain aspects of direct marketing.  The only problem was that the technology didn't work, and as the CIO, it was my job to deliver that message.  My method:  foaming at the mouth and shouting at anyone that would listen how we were killing ourselves on something that wasn't ready.

I was right.  It would be years before the technology in question - optical character recognition - would be ready.  But I wasn't effective in communicating the issues because I was far too emotional and negatively passionate.  The investors and our CEO thought I was just being hysterical, so they didn't listen.  We wasted probably another 6 months on a technology that would never work for us.

The second example is quite recent.  Late in 2020, I entered into a consulting engagement with a smaller company, but one that operates nationally, and one with a lot of exciting potential.  And the projects I'd be doing were right up my alley.  In other words, a great gig.

Some important background:  although my departure from TEECOM was turbulent, the work I did there was smooth as silk - a lot of things went really, really well.  One thing that went great while I was there was my mission to cut distractions, in order to give the burned-out staff more time to do their work.  A huge change I made was to our weekly staff meetings.  These went from 2 hours to about 15 minutes, to great acclaim, and with zero negatives.  We cut the person-by-person "here's what I did this past week, what I didn't do, and what I'm doing this week" snooze-a-thon at the roots and never looked back.

Fast forward a year or so to my consulting engagement, and I'm now being asked to participate in my client's weekly staff meetings.  You guessed it:  my client's two hour staff meetings were a lot like what I had dumped at TEECOM.  One fateful day, it came to be my turn to talk, and I just blurted out how wasteful and pointless the meeting was.  In front of the CEO's entire leadership team, with no advance warning to her.  Suffice to say, my consulting engagement wound down and did not continue.

But I was right:  I am not the only one to highlight the time sink that is the typical corporate meeting.  I had even read an entire book on the subject, the must-read "It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work". 

Which made it worse, as it gave me the arrogance and surety that made the message I was trying to deliver completely ineffective.  Not to mention it made me feel like I should speak completely out of school and in a borderline disrespectful fashion.  I was right, but (very) ineffective.  At least I'm a lot of fun at parties!

But it's not all negative today.  Today is our 31st wedding anniversary.  In marriage, I am right, effective, and very lucky.

I was pleased to see my Micro Travel Guide for Oceanside get some feedback.  From someone who knows something about being a heathen (and a WASP), Hunter Deuce had this to say:

"Andy and Libby said it's just as nice, but they didn't like the Nantucket style as much."

Heathens. You've got to release your inner WASP every now and then. 

From the ridiculous to the sublime, Dr. Doreen Downs added:

Portico, I like your description of the rooftop view from Mission Pacific Resort and lunching at the beachfront High/Low in a great Oceanside, CA setting - akin to Miami Beach without having to go to Florida!

Thanks for your Oceanside travel guide.

You are very welcome, Dr. Downs.

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.

In honor of my wife, here is a Diamond Certified playlist by yours truly of one of our favorite bands, Air. 

What wonderful music these two French gentlemen made.  Romantic and dreamy - like my marriage!


About Dean Clough

Plans To Enjoy Life.