Ever heard someone say, “I love my work, it’s the people I can’t stand.” Everyone has just been lumped into one formless category, but you’d rather not inquire into further detail. However, we do evaluate people every day: are they friend material or not? do I want to marry them? do I need to hire them? promote them? fire them? Let me suggest some things that have helped me over the years and may help you have a rationale in trying to recognize certain characteristics in the people we work with and deal with. Here we’re basically beginning to deal with Fundamental Principle 5: People.
There have been a lot of clichés and quotes made throughout history concerning different types of people. While all differ in the characteristics they describe, most of them have a reasonable amount of truth to them, at least through the experience and eyes of the various authors. Taking what we’ve said before, look to the following characterization as a hypothesis to be verified against your own experiences:
There are three types of people in the world:
-Those who make things happen;
-Those who watch things happen; and
-Those who wonder what happened.
(either Anonymous, or Mary Kay Ash, take your pick)
Casual observation gives strong credence to this, at least as a tip of an iceberg. But it’s incomplete and as such is not very useful, except at parties.
First, let’s try to apply Pareto’s Principle to the above and see what sort of picture we get. If we take the last type as the most common, we’ll give it the 80% mark. If we apply the Principle again to the remaining two types, that would make the second type to be the remaining 20% * 80% or 16% of the total, and the first type would then be the remainder or 20% * 20% or 4%. Thus:
-Those who make things happen, roughly 4% of the population;
-Those who watch things happen, roughly 16% of the population; and
-Those who wonder what happened, the rest, or 80% of the population.
Total US population: 308,745,538
Age > 18: 234,564,000 (a guess at total wage earners)
Number >$1,000,000 in net worth: 8,400,000 (3.5% of those >18)
Number >$100,000 in net worth: 36,200,000 (15.4% of those >18)
(includes the number in first line)
The Rest: 221,000,000 (84.6% of those >18)
So, Pareto’s Principle is roughly close, IF net worth is any measure of someone being able to “make things happen” (among those over age 18). Not bad, but keep in mind there are a lot of young college graduates who can make things happen that aren’t yet above $100,000 net worth, and there are some people way above that figure where it’s fair to wonder exactly “what” they made happen. So, these are ballpark numbers, even assuming the US census numbers are really accurate (not 308,745,539? are we sure?)
This cliché then seems to be good as far as it goes, as a conclusion drawn from anonymous’ observations (and probably ours, too). But it still isn’t useful as it doesn’t tell us anything about the what, how, and why of these “things” that were made to happen (or were watched). In other words, all of the –, 0 or +Σ games or motives can be found in each of the three cliché categories, but for different reasons. One could propose that throughout history we could identify those who made things happen in a
–Σ manner as “villains,” and those in a +Σ manner as “heroes.”
To pursue this point further, take another generalization:
There are three types of people:
-Those that climb rocks;
-Those that trip over rocks;
-Those that throw rocks.
A bit different in that the first group, again, are making something happen (overcoming obstacles), the second group could be trying to make something happen but are missing some skills (tangibles), while the third group probably have an attitude problem (intangibles).
Hidden issues here are what did they make happen and how? Looking at executives from Enron, Adelphi, and Worldcom one can conclude that they got in the top group by a –Σ approach. Others, such as Walt Disney, got there by a +Σ approach. Just because people appear to make things happen doesn’t mean they’re right for the job or the relationship. There’s also the how, the means that is used. These, too, can fall into any of our –, 0 or +Σ games or motives.
Another issue, I think, is the fact that the first cliché is over generalized. It implies that those who make things happen can make all things happen. This, unfortunately, is not true. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln,
All people who can make things happen can make some things happen all of the time, all of them can make things happen some of the time, but none of them can make all things happen all of the time.
Face it, we all have our areas of strengths and weaknesses. So do others, although they are not often prone to admit it.
Conclusions at this point? Be careful in assuming that people who appear (or have been categorized by someone else) to be able to make things happen qualifies them for a job or responsibility. And be careful if eliminating a person who appears to be (or has been categorized as) someone who watches things happen. They could just need proper training and mentoring.
Some of the things to look for in trying to confirm the Peter Principle at work in people above you or around you are the following:
- Do they make the right things happen (+Σ, most value added)?
- Do they make things happen in a constructive, commendable way (+Σ, according to company, cultural, and personal values)?
- Do they admit it if they can’t make them happen (+Σ, transparency and honesty)?
- And, whose benefit is being put first?
People are complicated. There are more observations to come.