Thursday, December 2, 2010

Nice Guys Finish Last?

When it comes to reputability, honesty and intelligence, you see quite the range in the entrepreneurial & startup world. Unfortunately, a lot of what you see isn't pretty. As a relative "nice guy," I've tried to carry the "nice guy" torch through it all. I've dropped the torch plenty of times of course, but I've always led with it.

The notion that "doing the right thing" always wins has been severely challenged for me over the past five years of my career. I'd seen a lot of "success" at the expense of dirty business. Lots of bodies kicked when they were down. Lots of good 'ol boy club antics in the classroom. My reactions have varied from "I gotta get me some of that" to flat-out leaving a room that was covered in slime. I've seen the pitch black souls of ruthless businessmen, and I've removed 12" hunting knives from my back.

On one level I admire heartless action. It's clean and usually doesn't have any baggage (IIF you can truly emotionally disconnect). On the other, it's disturbing.

Part of the challenge in the game is being successful in a moral and ethical manner. I have to be able to sleep at night and I can't if I know I've left the field with ill-gotten reward.

While I've also learned to "man up" on many levels (and still need to on many more), I've realized manning up actually means accomplishing amazing feats without screwing people. Any chump can kick someone when they're down, or manipulate the system to their advantage. It's a lot harder to squarely face-off and win. What makes "doing the right thing" even harder is that system manipulation is precisely what you need to do in order to break new ground or to innovate.

Enter obligatory Star Wars analogy. Return of the Jedi... Luke obliterating Vader on the walkway... moments away from killing him. Then Luke realizes he's won... Emperor Palpatine is in the background drooling over what appears to be Luke casting over to the Dark side. Luke stands up, takes a breath, and tosses his light-saber over the edge. He'd shown his prowess. He'd won, without tipping over to the Dark side.

I recently accomplished something on the battlefield that I'd written off as impossible to do if we were going to be nice about it. Still, without sacrificing good for evil, we won. It was a shot in the arm of confidence in that doing the right thing is right and should prevail.

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