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Paul Kimmel

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

95 to 5 Factor

March 15, 2010

I was in building 42 at Microsoft a few years ago, in the lobby waiting to start a Microsoft Consulting Services gig. I started a conversation with a guy waiting too. He said that he was a C++ programmer, one of the original 200 employees, and was coming back to work after some years. I said, you think Bill G. would come down and welcome you back. His immediate response: Bill is not a real people person. It wasn't stated with any malice. Just a statement. In fact, based on many publications, including Bill G.'s biography I don't think anyone would be shocked by 'Bill not being a people person' comments. In some ways Gates got very lucky. He was very smart, cashed in on that, and probably didn't have to be a sweetheart of a guy with everyone. The rest of us, well, we aren't Bill G. If people think ";you are not a real people person"; then it may be getting in the way. It may be getting in the way in ways that you aren't even aware of.

Dale Carnegie--of "How to Win Friends and Influence People" fame-- apportioned success to 5% of what you know and 95% of how you relate to people. Worse, Carnegie wrote that intelligence is as purchasable a commodity as any other. This means if you are left-brained like many of us technophiles then no matter how great you do at the 5%--that is, no matter how great your inner knowledge base is-without a big score in the interpersonal skills column the result is a failing grade. Not to put too fine a point on it: if you are a genius but people don't like you then, well, your brain is a commodity.

People often ask me how do I write so many books. (I have more than a dozen and counting.) The answer is I push real hard on the knowledge skills end, and work alone a lot. The downside is that the people skills column ends up looking like an untended garden, weedy. Family and friends probably give me a pretty good score on the people side. Co-workers, often, not so much. The problem is not malice, rudeness, or disrespect on my part, but one of neglect. The same skills that allow me to write books, learn new technologies, and understand weird technical concepts quickly actually work against me sometimes where tecno-nerds are concerned.

Everyone is never going to be universally liked. That is impossible, but if you neglect relationships and people polarize against you then it is going to be a big stumbling block. I am fortunate enough that sometimes people remind me of this fact. (Because this is a blog, I can tell you that a weird fact of my personality is that I am extremely warm to waiters, janitors, lay-people, but have been accused of arrogance by people that I work with. I don't think I am arrogant, but…)

Reach out to people that you work with. Obsequiousness of course is easily spotted, but it will be the people that work with you that elevate you or leave your garden untended or worse, plant weeds in it.Malcolm Gladwell writes in "Outsiders: The Story of Success" about bonafide genuises that are largely unknown. Extreme intelligence without an audience is a tree falling in the woods. Luck, an audience, and some smarts all make up the Mulligan stew that determines how far we go and what we accomplish or not.

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