“If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.”– Johnny Carson
In Part 1 of this series, I discussed some of the ways that life deals us a bum hand, and some of the ways we can deal with that. In this post, I continue the list, starting with some oddnesses about factors that seem to play as big a role, if not even bigger, as individual merit in determining or life success.
1. Most CEOs are tall.
90% of Fortune 500 CEOs are of above average height. Some 30% – compared with only about 4% in the general population – are 6’2” or taller. Since it’s highly unlikely that a random sample of 500 people would show this great a deviation from the national average, the only explanation is that tallness conveys qualities that are seen as “executive material” even when the tall person might lack those qualities or be merely humdrum. By extension, shorter-than-average people with incredible leadership skills might be passed over in exchange for less-stunning but taller candidates.
What to do about it: This is even tougher than appearance issues, since there’s no good way to increase your height (you can wear lifts, I suppose, but will always risk exposure). Again, confidence is key, and the handful of shorter-than-average CEOs out there (less that 3%) are distinguished by their confidence. Study the behavior of shorter CEOs like Jack Welch or Barry Diller. Think “tall” – be seen, make yourself heard. Shorter CEOs also tend to be those that work their way up in a company, so commit for the long haul; taller CEOs come from executive job searches, where they have less personal history and more “flash” in play. And, of course, you can become an entrepreneur – hopefully you wouldn’t replace yourself with someone taller!
2. People buy brands.
Brand loyalty is one of the major factors influencing people’s buying decisions. Part of this is “following the leader” – if I know the brand, it must be because people are talking about it, thus it must be good.” Part of it is packaging design. And part of it is comfort in previous knowledge – the brand you know and kind of like is a better bet than the one off-brand you don’t know and might love or hate.
What to do about it: Commit yourself to trying something new every so often – maybe every month, replace a favorite brand with a brand you don’t know and see how you like it. You pay a huge premium for branding, often at the expense of quality, so it’s worth it to shed a brand here and there. For durable purchases (as opposed to consumables like food), develop a systematic way of comparing your brand against the competitors – Apple (or Microsoft), Ford (or Chevy), Nike (or Adidas) might not always be the best way for you to go, even if you’ve had good experiences with them in the past.
3. People do, in fact, judge books by their covers.
It’s a publishing industry fact – book covers are what grab and hold attention long enough for a purchase to be made. If it were something about the content, you’d expect authors to have some say, but often they have no contractual right to even see the cover before it’s published, let alone approve or disapprove. (More often, authors can disapprove, but publishers reserve – and usually exercise – the right to ignore the author’s disapproval).
What to do about it: If you’re in the authoring game, let book cover designers do what they do best – they know their domain far better than you do. For buyers, check reviews – lots of handheld software allows you to access Amazon and other sites with reviews while you’re standing in the store. Also, get used to using your library – most libraries have online reservation systems that are nearly as effective as Amazon at getting your chosen books to you in a couple of days. That way, you minimize the risk of blowing money on books that turn out to be less than the cover promises.
4. Most people would rather not choose at all than choose between two equally good options.
This is decision paralysis of a sort – when presented with two equally good options, we freeze. Two options where one is clearly better we handle fine, but not where they are equally good, or for that matter, difficult to compare on the same criteria (the apples v. oranges dilemma).
What to do about it: The standard response to difficult decisions is to list pros and cons, but where things are more or less equal, or where pros and cons aren’t comparable, this isn’t helpful. A better option is to re-frame the decision – the think out a way of looking at the choices in a way that is comparable. One way to do that is to look at goals and objectives – what is the goal you hope to meet by choosing one or the other, and which one is better suited to that goal? This moves you past the immediate characteristics of the objects under consideration – that is, one tastes delicious, the other offers two hours of solid motion picture excitement, so if your goal is to have fun for as long as possible, you might spend your $10 on the movie and not the super-sundae.
5. The best ideas often get lost for lack of funding, competence, or experience.
The people who think up brilliant ideas aren’t always in a position to make them happen. They lack sales skills, people skills, marketing skills, or, quite often, just enough money to bring an innovation to market or the mainstream. Or a start-up gets bought out by a monopolistic corporation simply in order to quash their project.
What to do about it: If you’re in a position to do so, seek out start-ups without the skills to succeed and support them however you can. If you’re an idea person yourself, seek out people with the skills you lack – do not could on your idea to succeed for its greatness.
Well, that about covers it – as before, I’d love to hear what you think is unfair about life, and how you’ve dealt with unfairness in your own life. Let us know about it in the comments.