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My Best Mistake: Not Playing Well With Others

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Influencers. Follow Craig Newmark on LinkedIn.


Okay, I really am a nerd, and have had to learn normal social and professional interaction the hard way.

The first half of my career was at a major computer manufacturer, and you probably know the second half is craigslist, with some software contracting in there. The manufacturer is a very different company now, particularly since they kinda bet the company on Linux and software services.

Anyway, in the eighties I was in Detroit, mostly working with a major car manufacturer. Our customer was telling us they wanted Unix systems for factory automation, for car dealers, and so on.

Just so you know, Unix is the operating system developed by Bell Labs in the late sixties. It was rebuilt, recoded as Linux via an effort initiated by Linux Torvalds, which he gave away, making him one of the biggest public benefactors ever.

That is, Linux is kind of a clone of Unix, open source and built by many contributors in an ongoing effort. As open source, it's been extremely successful, running on many systems, and is the basis of the Android system for smartphones.

I recall three different episodes where I told my co-workers that they were being very wrong not listening to the customer and recommending systems that wouldn't do the job, and that we'd lose business. Let's say that I did so harshly, with other people around.

The most dramatic episode took place in frustration, given that we weren't listening to the customers' preferred choice of hardware for a specific environment. More precisely, the tech customers had one preference, but their executive chose the expedient route. Things were moving really slowly, but I tried hard to be a team player, until I lost my patience one day at a customer location, visible to a number of people on both teams.

That created an instant perception of not playing well with others, and that's valid. Frankly, impatience remains my greatest fault.

Doesn't matter that I was right, and that the project failed. Several years later, I spoke with an end user of that system, professionally, and I recall her describing the system as "nightmarish," so much so it stressed her out.

That started in the early eighties, and I didn't quite get understand and modify my behavior until the early nineties. Probably what really got me going right was starting to do serious customer service, and it's been eighteen years of that.

Really embarrassing to have taken so long, but sometimes, that's the downside of being a nerd.

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