Empty Bragging, Noxious Excuses

I promise not to obsess on using The Apprentice as my main subject in this blog… but, gosh, it’s just so damn juicy with great story lines.

You don’t have to even watch it to fathom the main lessons, either. Just listen in to the water cooler chat, and you’ll get the gist.

Couple of quick insights to how ego and self-delusion can destroy you: First, last week the obnoxious beefy guy got the axe. Not much of a surprise there — he’d alienated his entire team, and was clearly in the midst of a personality breakdown.

What I found interesting was his “guarantee” of not getting fired. He said, to the camera, “I guarantee I will return from the boardroom.” And he said it so emphatically that spittle rained toward the camera. (“I… WILL… RETURN… etc.”)

Emphatic. Believe me or else.

This effort to twist reality by sheer impotent force of will echoed in the ad created by his team for the cereal product project. Now, these apprentices can be forgiven for not having advanced marketing chops — if they were already drop-dead experts, they wouldn’t be dancing for a spot in Trump’s hierarchy.

So I don’t fault them for being lame. Rather, I want to point out that, as utter advertising rookies, the copy they came up with is dangerously close to efforts I see while critiquing my Insider’s ads: Introducing The Next Generation… Finally, The Cereal For Everyone.

Honest teachers will immediately try to beat the urge to use “introducing” type headlines out of you for good. It’s weak copy, and makes Barnum (the guy who really knew how to introduce something to a gullible public) roll in his grave every time it gets dragged out.

Rookies get confused. They’re told the company is introducing a new product… and after hours of banging their heads against the wall trying to be “creative” and “clever”, they end up trying to bull their target audience over with the force of being emphatic.

The beefy guy’s emphatic promises were hollow, despite his vehemence. And the team’s ad was stupid, despite their delight in pretending to be a circus ring-leader.

As kids, I remember many times betting someone a million dollars that I was right about some minor point or another. It was supposed to carry the power of a double-dog dare, and blow him away — who, after all, could withstand the confidence of a boy willing to bet a million dollars on something?

Didn’t work then. Still doesn’t work in the adult world.

Second interesting point: A couple of shows ago, a team member lost the project by insisting they could cross Manhattan in twenty minutes to reach a crucial meeting in time. The irony was that the guy actually lived in Manhattan, and should have known better. They missed the meeting by forty minutes, and the fed-up executives they were supposed to interview just split.

That guy got fired, as well he should have.

But there’s a deeper lesson there, too. Namely, professionalism.

This is a serious point of contention for me, because I hate having my time wasted, and I took the trouble to discipline myself not to waste anyone else’s time, either.

It ain’t that hard.

My idea of professionalism is simple: You are where you said you’d be, when you said you’d be there, having done what you said you’d do.

In school, you can get out of being graded harshly when you fail if you have a good excuse. That’s a piss-poor fall-back position to bring into the business world, though.

You miss a deadline, and it can cost vast sums of very real money. And ruin your reputation in very real ways.

Some people are chronically late because they relish the power. It’s a passive-aggressive thing… and if you suspect someone is chronically wasting your time for the small thrill of holding you hostage to their sick need for control, leave now.

Other “late people” are just victims of thier own delusion. They remember the one time they got across town in twenty minutes, and ignore the four hundred times it took longer. There’s a reluctance to summon the energy required for the trip, and a reluctance to begin gearing up for whatever new kind of thinking the meeting will drag out of you. So you put it off as long as possible… and often longer.

If you’re chronically late, you need to change your behavior NOW. And you cannot accomplish this by simply being emphatic with yourself about it.

Even you won’t listen to your bullshit promises.

No, you need a plan. It sounds simple, but it escapes a lot of people just the same.

If you must be somewhere at 4 pm, you will be late if you start getting ready to leave at 4 pm. Yet, I know people who do this.

In fact, if it takes forty minutes to get where you’re going, you are late if you’re still in the office at 3:20. The Theory of Relativity does not bend just because you’ve got rotten planning skills.

Here’s the pro rule: If your meeting’s at 4, you are not walking into the room at 4, nor pulling into the parking lot at 4, nor sitting at a traffic light a block away at 4. At 4 pm, you have already been sitting calmly in the place you’re supposed to be for at least five minutes, with your thoughts gathered and your friggin’ shit together.

You do not “lose” the time you spend waiting for a meeting to start. It’s still your time. Meditate, read, work on notes, or just sit and enjoy being alive. But do it where you’re supposed to be… not back in your office or home getting ready, pretending you can navigate forty minutes of traffic in ten minutes this time.

Figure out the worst time it’s taken you to get across town. Then add ten minutes.

This way, you won’t have to watch for cops as you speed, you won’t be a menace trying to blow lights you’ve missed, and you won’t arrive with an adrenaline level through the roof.

Remember: No matter how good your excuse is, the people waiting for you don’t want to hear it.

If you’re late, you’re going to have to rely on your history. If you’re chronically on time, you’ll be forgiven. If you’re a “late person”, all you’ll ever get are eye-rolls as you waste more of their time trying to make your boring tale of wrecks, detours and slow tourists sound believeable.

This kind of simple discipline is not hard to pull off.

It’s just rare.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

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  • J says:

    This hit me perfect for what happens to me every time I go to my accountants office.

    Each time I go to see his crocked ass (almost all accountants are) I end up waiting in his stupid “waiting room” staring at his somewhat decent looking receptionist watching ‘my time’ go by!

    The thing is when I’m finally called into see him I already have a certain mind set about how the meeting is going to go. Sure hes doing me a favor by saving me an assload of money but I think I deserve to be seen on time at least once.

    I’m always there at least 5 minutes early, one time I was there 20 minutes early – because I use the same method you suggest of taking the longest time it ever took you and add 10 minute- and traffic was really good to me that day. That day the little blond actually told me I was 20 minutes early as if I didn’t know.

    Don’t mean to rant be you started it.

    Thanks for this blog John I love it.

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