THE BLOG
05/13/2014 05:13 pm ET Updated Jul 08, 2014

Persistence Matters

There are a few aspects to human behavior that matter a lot in getting things done in life. Curiosity, imagination, flexibility and just plain grit are, of course, way up on any list of the most important of these traits.

One other characteristic is also very important, though it can be a two-edged sword. That is persistence. If one is too persistent, they can become a pest (and their own worst enemy). But if one never pushes the normal limits, the chances of getting what one wants also begin to wane.

Many years ago, I watched with wonder as a colleague in the investment banking firm where I worked announced to us that he was going to get the banking business of a big Canadian tycoon who was famously aloof, unapproachable and tougher than nails. The only serious problem our colleague had was that he did not know this man or anyone else who knew him.

Accordingly he dreamt up a strategy of "hanging out" in this man's office waiting room. He presented himself one day and said he needed badly to meet the man with some important and valuable information. He was told that he needed an appointment. He said fine; give me one. The answer was that the travel schedule was too up in the air, but if he would be patient they would see what they could do.

He waited; went away and came back over and over for days, then weeks. He saw the big man--who also saw him -- many times. One day when my colleague was hanging out in the waiting room-- through which the man had to pass to get to his appointment schedule--the man paused and roared "Who the hell are you? You are not paying me rent for using my waiting room. What do you want?"

My friend, quaking in his boots having finally gotten the guy's attention, said "You want me as your banker because I will make you even richer. Give me 10 minutes and throw me out, if you like. But, when you hear what I have to say, you will hire me!" The guy said "Ok, it's worth 10 minutes of my time to get you out of my office! Come in."

They came out together 10 minutes later, and my friend ended up at the tycoon's side for the next 10 years. The guy's fortune grew ever larger while my friend did very well too! And, they remained friends forever.

So, what can one draw from this story? The chances of pulling that result off have to be about equal to winning a national lottery by oneself even if you buy a bunch of tickets.

The difference is that the lottery is pure, statistical chance. To break down a prospective client's door to make a pitch takes guts, skill, charm, wit and, most of all, persistence.

I do not recommend this particular technique to anyone, even though it may inspire a few hardy types to be bold, never timid and go to the edge, if you feel well prepared and can afford to take the risk of failure.