Does Competition Rule?

I came across a blog review of several “mentoring” books, which included my own. The first commenter wrote the following:

But competition rules in this topsy-turvy world of Silicon Valley and most other industrial locations in the US, and it’s difficult to find advice that you trust. When people are clawing their way up the “ladder” or hanging on for dear life, few are willing to help someone else over – in fact more likely the opposite.

Yes, I agree, 50 years ago or so when business was stable, organizations fixed, mentoring was popular and we looked for protégés who could and would assist and, on the other hand, mentors we might replace in the future. Today, even the social scene is infused with competition – people outdoing people, needing to be heard, having more than he or she, being most recognized and important.

A nice idea worked well in a sustaining environment but not so today. Caution is what I employ when hearing advice, and seeking direction – neither of which I do often.

I live in Pittsburgh, not Silicon Valley, although I started a software company in 2000, which we sold to IBM last year. I’ve also touched down in San Jose and San Fran airports a time or two. It’s possible that I missed that human beings are fundamentally different over there. But I doubt it.

I believe that competent advice-givers will gladly offer good advice in at least these cases:

  • they genuinely like the individual
  • the individual has helped them in the past
  • they are themselves accomplished, and so appreciate when others are trying earnestly to accomplish something
  • have been given good advice or mentored in the past, and feel an obligation to do their part
  • they are approached in an appealing way, with the right deference and humility

It follows that certain behaviors are better than others, if you want to be able to benefit from the knowledge and wisdom of others.

Of course, none of this prevents getting contradictory advice from multiple advisors, for the reasons discussed in my chapter on Dealing With Contradictory Advice.

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