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Craig Newmark’s best mistake

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Craig Newmark, 60, calls impatience his “greatest fault,” and it posed particular problems for him early in his career. Before he launched Craigslist, the online marketplace of classified ads, he worked at IBM for 17 years.

In the 1980s, he helped a car manufacturer in Detroit maximize its use of IBM computers. The car company expressed a preference for Unix operating systems to automate its factory and its dealership network.

Yet Newmark’s IBM colleagues continued to recommend that the customer—the carmaker—invest in other operating systems. Newmark repeatedly urged his co-workers to stop imposing their own ideas and, instead, heed the customer’s preference. He warned that by pushing systems that wouldn’t do the job, IBM would ultimately lose this big customer.

Finally, he lost his composure. He harshly berated his colleagues in front of others, including some of the carmaker’s employees. Making a scene did not burnish Newmark’s already shaky reputation as a team player, especially since he made IBM look bad in the customer’s eyes.

It turns out that Newmark was right. But his unprofessional behavior over­shadowed his professional judgment.  

In 1993, Newmark left IBM and started paying more attention to customer service. As he gained a better understanding of how to deliver superior service, he started to modify his behavior. He framed his suggestions to colleagues more reasonably as a way to advance customer interests.

Newmark has devoted the past 18 years to Craigslist. While he’s still impatient, he has learned to listen better and sharpen his influence by proposing solutions rather than insisting he’s right at the expense of others.

— Adapted from “My best mistake: Not playing well with others,” Craig Newmark, www.linkedin.com.

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