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What made my high school pal a crazy business success?

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Robert Lentz

by on
in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Back in the day, there was a guy in our high school circle of friends named Bram. He was funny, sometimes goofy. Liked U2 and computer baseball. We all did the usual teen things together: played Risk, hung out at Denny’s (don’t judge me) and schemed to buy a used Ford Fiesta.

As I write this, I see in the news that Bram is one step away from becoming CEO of one of the most powerful companies on Earth, while others in our group have yet to own a bed that doesn’t fold out of a sofa.

Even at 16, I could have told you Bram was going to make it big. It didn’t matter what college he went to or what sort of grades he got. He’d just make great things happen, regardless.

One day he looked up from a grape Slurpee and said to me, “There are really only two types of people in the world: the ones who know what they’re doing, and the ones who don’t.”

It took me a long time to figure out what he meant by that, but I see now that it’s true. Bram has simply always known what he’s doing. Sitting behind me in Psych class or alone in the cafeteria, he had a confidence and a fearlessness about him, an air of unshakeable competence. I never saw him do any homework, but I had zero doubt he was getting it all done. He was a B+ student by choice: Pushing any harder just wasn’t going to accomplish the goal of getting into his chosen university.

I recall now that he spent no time at all with people he considered behind the curve. Just wouldn’t let them into his world. They never even knew they were being cut out.

Look around yourself at work. There are still only two types of people. You can categorize every co-worker flawlessly with a minute’s thought. Forget the specifics of any particular job. Just ask yourself: Does this person know what he’s doing?

Now think about those who fall into that unfortunate other bin. Why are they still a part of your company or your life? How much of your career do you want to devote to working around their shortcomings?

Many of us will know a few Brams in our lives, and some will never work with one. That’s OK. You don’t need a Bram. But maybe you do need his theory about the two types. Use it to cut through the clutter of fancy terms and trends in hiring, motivation and retention. Adopt it as the simplest employee pH test ever. It even works outside the office.

Only Bram, damn his shrewdness, could invent something so brilliant—and immediately forget he did, because he had other tasks, and adept people, to move on to.

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