When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s I wasn’t nearly as smart as I am now. Not even close. It’s as if every five years I’ve added an exponent to my ability to understand things.
This is so pronounced that if I were to evaluate myself 15 or even 10 years ago, I wouldn’t recognize myself as an A-player. I simply wasn’t one. And yet here I sit looking down at my previous self.
What this has taught me is powerful, and it’s not that I’m smart.
What it’s taught me is that what a person is at any given moment when you meet them is not necessarily what they can become.
I’ve been a C-player. I’ve been a B-player. And somehow I (hopefully) made it into the top tier in some small subset of skills. But how did that happen? How does one make the transition?
Well, first, I got lucky. Let’s just be clear about that. Having good parents, a solid upbringing, being born in the Bay Area. These are all luck. I didn’t do any of that.
And then there were opportunities to seize. Did I seize them? Yes. But they had to be there, and that’s wasn’t my doing.
Plus there were relationships. People believing in me instead of pushing me down. And I’ve had plenty of the latter, by the way. It’s true that I resisted the negativity, escaped, and embraced the positivity and rode it to its potential.
But again, all these things had to be present. You have to have the opportunity to match any initiative you might have.
Be the opportunity
So this is what struck me about this.
After realizing this I don’t see potential the same way. You simply can’t judge someone based on how they present in a given skill at a given period in their life.
Because you don’t know what inputs have lead to them being in that state.
Are they a C-player? Do they seem lazy? Are they undependable? Do they lack attention to detail?
Well, there are two options here:
- The person is actually lazy with no ambition and no desire to improve
- The person actually hates that they’re like this. They know they are, but wish they weren’t. But they’ve been treated like a C player for so long (because that’s how they behave) that now that’s their permanent state
What I realized is that being treated like a C-player makes you one. There is tons of research on this. Give someone power and they wield it. Treat someone like a servant and they lose their creativity and initiative. Put someone in a suit and tie and put them behind a big desk, and suddenly they make better decisions.
How people are treated changes their potential. This is what I’ve come to understand.
Plus, most people are rockstars at one thing and incompetent in many others. So you may interact with someone on business, or finance, or technology, and see them absolutely flounder. They don’t understand. They fumble. They cannot even grasp the basics.
But they’re an absolute prodigy in one or more other things. And you’re probably the same. If someone saw you stumble through your weakest points there’s no way they’d guess that you’re brilliant in your own field.
Make the adjustment
So here’s my epiphany:
When I look at someone acting like a C-player, in whatever space, I don’t make the assumption that they ARE a C-player anymore. I kind of don’t believe in it anymore.
I believe the person is PERFORMING like a C-player. But they may be good at lots of other things. Or they may even have the potential to dominate in what they’re failing at, given the right encouragement and training.
Applying game theory
I’m a noob with game theory concepts, but here’s the basic idea for a game theory matrix: you determine the various outcomes that would come from you taking different actions.
In this case, we have four (4) options for how to treat someone who’s performing like a C-player:
- You treat the person like an A player, but they’re really not
- You treat the person like an A player, and they really are
- You treat the person like a C player, but they’re really an A player
- You treat the person like a C player, and they’re really a C player
There are some exceptions, but the way I see this it’s always best to treat them like an A player. What do you lose from treating someone who truly isn’t talented as being more talented than they are?
You’re still going to get the best from them; the difference is that they’ll feel good about themselves while doing so. And that’s plainly better in my view.
- People can be complete idiots in one thing while being geniuses in others
- You can’t tell what people are good and bad at by seeing them perform in one sphere
- Much of a person’s perceived talent comes from what they and others believe they’re capable of, and this belief is highly dependent on nothing more than what they’ve been told. Tell them they’re genius and they can be. Tell them they’re a prole who punches a clock, and they will be
- There is little lost if you treat someone who genuinely has no talent as someone who does
For these reasons, I choose to treat people like rockstars. Everyone. More times than not it will raise their games considerably, no matter how they already feel about themselves.
There are many rockstars out there who simply haven’t been told that they are, and it’s our job to find them and bring them out.
And if there isn’t really a rockstar in there, so what? Treating the person with respect and encouraging them to produce their best work is still the best way to proceed.
It’s just a better way to behave.
- There is a situation where you ask for A Player results from a C Player and you basically set them up to fail. It’s pretty easy to adjust those expectations and ask for less from them in this case, while still being positive and encouraging.
- This does not mean it’s ok to grow a team of C-Players and pretend they’re A-Players. It’s not. The point is that people often don’t know which someone is until they apply the right inputs. And the right input is often to treat them like you want them to perform.