World's Worst Advice!

An old friend visited for a couple of days last week. Google him, and you’ll be impressed. Or you would be, if I’d tell you who it is.

In the course of a dozen conversations—old guy conversations—we shared stories of joys and sorrows, anger and pain, good fortune and ill winds, pals and foes and traitors and through-it-all supporters.

His Hall-of-Fame career includes bushels of excoriating criticisms along the way. Embarrassing and well-deserved failures. Off years—in fact, off decades.

And musing on it all reminded me of a Very Sensible Saying that I think is pure, unmitigated crap, in fact the World’s Worst Advice: “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”

As I said … pure crap.

Forget “fold ’em.”
Drop it from your vocabulary.
Excise it.
Bury it.
Stomp on its grave.

If you care, really care, really really care about what you are pursuing, well, then, pursue-the-hell-out-of-it-until-hell-freezes-over-and-then-some-and-then-some-more. And may the naysayers roast in hell or freeze in the Antarctic or bore themselves to death with the sound of their “statistically accurate” advice.

It’s a good fortnight to bring this up. I’ll bet the farm, my farm, or at least an acre thereof, that less than 1% of the 10,000 athletes in Beijing moved smoothly through their careers. I’ll bet virtually all had coaches who advised ’em to hang it up, “career-ending” injuries, humiliations heaped upon humiliations, and so on. And on.

And yet they persisted.
And they’re in Beijing.

My anonymous visiting friend gave me The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company, by David Price. Consider this paragraph:

“One of the curious aspects of Pixar’s story is that each of the leaders was, by conventional standards, a failure at the time he came onto the scene. [Animator-superstar John] Lasseter landed his dream job at Disney out of college—and had just been fired from it. [Tech genius and founding CEO Ed] Catmull had done well-respected work as a graduate student in computer graphics, but had been turned down for a teaching position and ended up in what he felt was a dead-end software development job. Alvy Ray Smith, the company’s co-founder, had checked out of academia, got work at Xerox’s famous Palo Alto Research Center, and then abruptly found himself on the street. [Steve] Jobs had endured humiliation and pain as he was rejected by Apple Computer; overnight he had transformed from boy wonder of Silicon Valley to a roundly ridiculed has been. …”

That is, shit happens. And if enough of it happens to you, then, if you are wise, you’ll fold ’em. And God (and I) will love you just as much as if you’d endured—but we won’t read about you in the history books.

Now if you do indeed “endure”—well, we probably won’t read about you either, because the odds indeed are long against you making it to that history book or Beijing. I readily admit that.

But if you really really really care …

About computer animation. Or rowing. Or the shotput. Or those supercalifragilisticexpialidocious chocolate-chip cookies you bake. (Alas, Mrs. Fields announced a bankruptcy filing today.) Or haiku. Or better ways to provide a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious customer experience.

Or …
Or …

If you really really really really really care … then there ain’t no time to fold ’em until your last breath is drawn—and even that’s too soon if you’ve bothered along the way to inflame others about your presumed Quixotic cause.

In the (doubtless not) immortal words of Tom Peters: “There’s a time to hold ’em and a time to keep on holdin’ ’em—if you really really really care.”

Your responses are as always very very welcome!

Tom Peters posted this on August 18, 2008, in Strategies.
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