I don’t particularly care about the usual. If you want to get an idea of a friend’s temperament, ethics and personal elegance, you need to look at him under the tests of severe circumstances, not under the regular rosy glow of daily life. Can you assess the danger a criminal poses by examining only what he does on an ordinary day?
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb The Black Swan
What about lessons you learned in college?
A business strategy course in my senior year stands out. I had maintained a 4.0 average all the way through, and I wanted to graduate with a perfect average. It came down to the final exam, and I had spent many hours studying and memorizing formulas to do calculations for the case studies.
The teacher handed out the final exam, and it was on one piece of paper, which really surprised me because I figured it would be longer than that. Once everyone had their paper, he said, “Go ahead and turn it over.” Both sides were blank.
And the professor said, “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last 10 weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, is this: What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?”
And that had a powerful impact. It was the only test I ever failed, and I got the B I deserved. Her name was Dottie, and I didn’t know Dottie. I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name. I’ve tried to know every Dottie I’ve worked with ever since.
It was just a great reminder of what really matters in life, and that you should never lose sight of people who do the real work.
-Walt Bettinger of Charles Schwab, interview with Adam Bryant ‘You’ve got to open up to move up‘ The New York Times