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Learning By Paradox

Mar 30, 2020 11:35:23 AM / by Tim McCarthy

My worldview has been shaped by paradox.  Here are a few of my favorites.    
  Young contemplating businessman stands in front of business graphics

  • You can’t sell when you’re talking 

And yet most salespeople “show up and throw up”.  One of my early mentors taught me that “if you spend 30 minutes with a prospect and they speak 27 of those minutes, they will think YOU are a genius”.   It stuck throughout my corporate and entrepreneurial career and I think it’s been life changing.  Great salespeople are great listeners and only speak at any length AFTER they fully understand the client’s issues.  Even then, they pause frequently to say, “did I get that right?”   


This concept goes double in personal relationships which I also see as the continuing process of “selling each other”.    I must “seek first to understand, less be understood”.  I find rich irony that great sales advice comes from the Bible.  


  • Simple is difficult.   

Complex problems are generally solved by simple solutions applied with consistency and discipline.  So why do we complicate intractable problems?  Because it’s easier to do. 

Simple is difficult because chronic problems are not easily solved. Yet human nature calls for instant solutions.  Looking back, successes I’ve had were born by applying simple disciplines over time until it prevailed. My failures were in search of silver bullets.    


  • Mistakes are teachers for those who are resilient and observant students 

In my case, mistakes cluster around my weaknesses.  Financial discipline and detail management were/are my Achilles heels.  It’s unlikely I’ll become good at either and so I learned to give power to those who are but I also know enough to be safe.  I still can’t read a profit and loss statement or a balance sheet the way an accountant can, but I can read them well enough to know if the accountant’s view matches my own.     


  • Transparent marketing breaks through the clutter 

“Biz bazz” was Jim Johnson’s, my mentor, term for slick sales pitches and theme lines. Yet every American consumer has been taught (through ubiquitous biz bazz) to not believe paid advertising.  So, I’ve tried to follow McCann Erickson’s 86-year-old theme: “The Truth Well Told”.  That is, when your pitch is based in honest evidence of the good you do – in a manner no one else can say it – you win.  

Yep, the truth will set your message free! 

  • Generosity is selfish 

I got into service at a very young age. I was going to save the world and become a noble guy.  To my surprise, I happily remain “just another bozo”.  Alice and I began our formal foundation work in 1997 with our friend and mentor, Father Norm Smith, who taught us that it’s healthy to realize that we give from self-interest.  

Money is nice to have but it never satisfies.  Loving and being loved are far more important.  The connections from sharing everything we have (time, money, experience) bring great fortunes.  No material thing could ever match hearing about someone who has used our time, money or experience to do something specifically helpful to themselves and others.  As Norm loved to say, we often get more from our work than those we serve.    



Tim McCarthy   


Note to readers: Yes, I resisted blogging about the current coronavirus.  This is my sixth global crisis.  As with the others, I’m anxious about it, especially if I watch the news too much. Each crisis is unique and largely out of our control.  Eventually each crisis has passed and produced long term improvements.  After my first, the Arab Oil Embargo, Americans began a positive, if slow incline toward more thoughtful energy conservation.  After Y2K, we learned to be more vigilant about internet security, after 9/11 we improved transportation and large gathering security and after the great recession, we required better capitalization to our banking system. I expect that when this crisis has passed, we will become far more able to manage the next pandemic, which could carry a significantly more deadly virus.  It recalls a favorite Churchill quote, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else”.   

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Tim McCarthy

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