Remarkable (2021) is a playbook for professionals looking to advance their careers. It’s not about getting ahead by any means, though. Covering topics like self-promotion, mistakes, and disagreements, it makes a compelling case that the best way to move forward is by staying humble and working with – and for – your team.
Who is it for?
- Managers and leaders
- Entrepreneurs and self-starters
- Team players
Insights into a new business philosophy.
When it comes to getting ahead in business, you’re often encouraged to focus on your own efforts and behavior. Work harder, smarter, and faster, the thinking goes, and you’ll advance your career.
Seasoned business pro David Kronfeld doesn’t exactly disagree with that view – but he thinks there’s more to it than that. Business, he argues, is a team sport: no individual person is indispensable, and no one can do well without a team. Acknowledging that fact is the key to success.
These summaries will show you what comes next – the skills and mindset that will help you thrive in the business world.
Along the way, you’ll learn
- how humility can advance your career;
- why it’s important to admit when you’re wrong; and
- how to voice criticism without provoking a defensive reaction.
You need experience, not genius, to be successful in business.
Intelligence takes many different forms. Some people find it easy to pick up on social dynamics, for instance. Others have a gift for languages, music, or logic. Yet early on in life, nearly everyone is taught to measure intelligence by a single yardstick: academic achievement.
Excelling in school is all about absorbing complicated ideas. It’s a never-ending cycle, with each new concept building on the last. In this environment, the standard measure of intellectual ability, IQ, is a pretty good predictor of success.
Business, however, is different. To thrive in this environment, you need to grasp a limited number of basic concepts. Once you’ve learned them, you can apply them time and again. Business intelligence isn’t about mastering theoretical insights – it’s the fruit of experience. In other words, IQ isn’t a predictor of success.
The key message here is: You need experience, not genius, to be successful in business.
In schools and universities, success comes down to a single skill: the ability to master lots of new information and integrate it into increasingly complex abstract models. IQ is a measure of this mental faculty, so it’s no surprise that in academic settings, people with higher IQs outperform their peers with lower ones.
But many of the problems you learn to solve in school have black-and-white solutions – if all the angles of a triangle don’t add up to 180 degrees, you’ve made a mistake. In the business world, on the other hand, there are lots of shades of gray. There’s rarely a “right” or a “wrong” answer. Instead, there are risks and rewards – few of which can be fully understood in advance. As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding.
“Book smarts” alone won’t cut it in this environment. Instead, you need to integrate lots of different skills to achieve success. What kind of skills, though?
Well, you need to be good with people – and for that, you need interpersonal and communication skills. You also need leadership skills, which enable you to articulate your goals and motivate people. Finally, you have to be committed, dedicated, knowledgeable, and creative. These skills are hard to teach because they’re honed over the course of a career spanning years, not semesters. Business, in short, is all about learning by doing.
Put differently, there’s no shortcut around hard-won practical experience. But here’s the good news: you can expedite the learning process. And these summaries will help you do just that.
To advance your career, you need to get noticed by the right people for the right reasons.
What’s the key to career advancement? Ask successful people, and you’ll likely be given a three-step recipe. It states that you have to put in the hours, work smart, and always give it your best.
That’s not bad advice, exactly – it’s hard to argue that you’ll get ahead by slacking off or cutting corners, after all. But the instructions are also extremely vague.
What does it mean to work smart, for instance? How do you even know when you are working smart? There are thousands of different ways of doing things that you could call “working smart.”
This recipe for success doesn’t really tell you what to do. At the end of the day, it’s about as good as no advice at all. Luckily, you don’t need it – you can crack this nut yourself.
The key message here is: To advance your career, you need to get noticed by the right people for the right reasons.
Philosophers often talk about the difference between necessary conditions and sufficient ones.
Oxygen and water, for example, are necessary conditions for human life – we couldn’t survive without them. But they’re not sufficient: to stay alive, we also need other things, like food and shelter.
You can apply this lens to your career, too. Hard work, competence, and giving it your all are necessary conditions for success, but they’re not sufficient. So what’s missing?
The answer is that you also have to compete successfully. Let’s break that down.
From landing a job to getting a promotion, every professional advancement you could make pits you against other candidates over multiple rounds of evaluations. To be successful, you have to outcompete these rivals.
A necessary-but-not-sufficient recipe for success places the emphasis on your behavior – it’s about you working hard, being competent, and putting in the effort. But when the emphasis shifts and you’re looking at your behavior in a wider context – namely, how it stacks up against other people’s – a new question arises: What gives you the edge over your competitors?
First off, you need to get noticed. If no one notices you, it’s impossible to say whether you’re better or worse than any of your rivals. But there’s more to it than that. You have to be noticed by the right people for the right reasons. You won’t advance your career if your boss notices you for the wrong reasons – like that you’re always late or making mistakes. And demonstrating your brilliance isn’t much use unless you’re showing it to the people who make important decisions!
Humility plus trust equals respect.
Getting noticed for the right things, as we’ve just seen, is a vital part of competing successfully. Take one of the most highly valued traits – intelligence.
Naturally, everyone wants others to see them as smart. But how can you make your peers come to that conclusion about you? Generally speaking, there are two strategies.
The first is to tell everyone about your intelligence. This is a proactive approach; you’re putting your smarts on display and making sure people are paying attention. Unfortunately, this strategy isn’t very effective. In fact, it usually backfires. You just come across as arrogant – and no one likes a show-off.
So what’s the alternative? Make a habit of doing smart things, and trust that your peers will pick up on it.
The key message here is: Humility plus trust equals respect.
Writers follow a simple but effective rule: “Show, don’t tell.” People are perceptive – much more so than we usually give them credit for. If a depiction of a character’s behavior is compelling, readers will figure out what kind of person that character is, and what motivates them.
This rule also works in business settings. If you’ve come up with a great solution to a problem or spotted an overlooked opportunity, make a compelling case for why it works – you don’t need to tell everyone how brilliant it is! People notice positive attributes like intelligence. Even better, they value those attributes more highly if you’re humble about them.
The same goes for claiming credit for your work. No one wants to be taken for granted or have their successes attributed to others. But still, be careful about laying claim to work. Unfairly claiming credit – or worse, discrediting others to get a bigger share of your boss’s praise – isn’t perceived as healthy competitiveness. Instead, it fosters dislike and makes you look like you’re not a team player. In business, that perception is a huge obstacle to career advancement.
The most effective strategy, then, requires trust in your peers. Unless they’re extremely incompetent, which is fairly unlikely, they’ll notice your achievements. In fact, the problem is often that you haven’t realized that they’ve noticed. If you feel like you’re being undervalued, take a step back and try to think rationally. Do you always tell colleagues how much you appreciate them? Probably not. So there’s no reason to assume they think less of you – even if they don’t always show it.
And remember, the more assured you are about your accomplishments, the more you’ll be respected!
Your career can survive mistakes – but not a loss of credibility.
Why do people find it so hard to say they’ve made a mistake? Well, there are usually two factors at play. The first is that they believe they’ll be punished. And, if you think about it, evading responsibility is actually a pretty rational strategy for avoiding this unpleasant outcome.
The second factor has to do with image. Most people believe that reputation is everything; they think that admitting to mistakes will tarnish their smart, capable exterior. The human ego also resents anything that challenges its own, idealized self-image – so it’s hardly surprising that acknowledging errors is uncomfortable.
Of course, reputation does matter. But that’s why it’s important to own up to mistakes. When you don’t, you destroy something much more valuable than always being right.
The key message here is: Your career can survive mistakes – but not a loss of credibility.
Fresh army recruits quickly learn a survival skill from their more experienced peers: never admit you’ve made a mistake. The author learned this during his stint in the Israeli military, where he mastered the art of evading responsibility. Whatever the mess-up was, he always had an excuse ready.
That behavior makes sense in a military environment – soldiers suffer harsh punishments when they fail to carry out orders correctly. Dodging such penalties is rational. But in other contexts, it’s a self-defeating strategy.
When he first started working at Booz Allen, an American consulting firm, the author still had that military habit. During one meeting, an important client asked him if he’d analyzed a data set he’d been given. He hadn’t, but he quickly explained why – the information, he said, was irrelevant. As it happened, he was right. It was a lucky guess. The client was happy, but his boss – who was also his mentor – wasn’t. During a debriefing, he advised the author to never cover up a mistake again.
Why? Well, here’s the thinking. Mistakes happen. We all overlook something or get an important call wrong now and then. That’s life. Others can recognize when someone’s being reasonable – and they can forgive occasional errors. It would be crazy to expect someone to never make a mistake, after all.
But it’s impossible to trust someone who won’t admit that they got something wrong – they look like they’re putting their own interests and self-image ahead of the work itself. The result? They lose all credibility, and no one wants to work with them. That’s bad news for any career.
Effective managers punish lies, not mistakes.
The previous summaries have looked at mistakes from the perspective of the person making them. But what do things look like from a manager’s point of view? In other words, how can you deal with others’ mistakes?
To start answering that question, consider two things: First, mistakes are inevitable. No one knows the future, and people make judgments based on imperfect knowledge. A lot of the time, they get it wrong.
Second, although you can’t always prevent mistakes, you can often correct them and undo their negative consequences. To do that, you have to understand how a mistake was made – which is only possible if the person who made it is willing to give an honest account of what happened.
But here’s the catch – they won’t open up if they believe you’ll punish them for their error.
The key message here is: Effective managers punish lies, not mistakes.
From a young age, most people are taught that mistakes result in punishment. The penalties come in different shapes and sizes, from fines to scorn and social embarrassment – but they’re all unpleasant.
It’s no wonder, then, that people rarely own up to having made a mess of things. If they’re caught, meanwhile, they usually try to minimize the severity of the error or downplay their own role in it.
That’s just human nature. But to correct mistakes, managers need an accurate picture of what went wrong and why. If people fear punishment, there’s a good chance they won’t give you an honest account of the error’s causes. That puts you at a disadvantage. If they withhold information, your analysis of the situation will be flawed – making it both harder to correct the mistake and more likely that it’ll happen again.
That’s a suboptimal outcome. So how can you solve this problem? Simple: don’t punish people for making mistakes. When others understand that they won’t be penalized, they’re much likelier to produce the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That in turn means it’s easier to analyze, correct, and prevent further mistakes.
Let’s say you adopt this policy, but your team members don’t quite believe you. Here’s the author’s advice: let your team know in advance that they won’t be punished if they own up – while also making it clear that lying and covering up mistakes will be punished.
It’s easier to persuade people when you pay attention to their feelings.
You don’t need a behavioral scientist to tell you that people react negatively when you criticize or disagree with their ideas. No one likes feeling stupid – that’s part and parcel of human psychology.
Here’s the thing, though: people are often deeply attached to ideas that are wrong.
That’s a problem for managers, as acting on flawed ideas is obviously a bad strategy. But disagreement can also poison your relationship with your team. If they feel like they’re under attack, they won’t just resent you – they’ll also retreat into their shells. That undermines morale and gets in the way of work.
There is a way of avoiding this issue, however: being aware of how you deliver criticism.
The key message here is: It’s easier to persuade people when you pay attention to their feelings.
People respond to both what others are saying and the way they’re saying it. Put differently, everyone pays attention, albeit often subconsciously, to both articulation and demeanor.
Let’s start with demeanor – that is, a person’s body language and bearing. If you’re disagreeing with someone’s ideas, it’s important to be mindful about this aspect of your behavior.
That’s because people mirror each other’s demeanors. If you’re perceived as aggressive, the person you’re talking with will also become aggressive. It’s the same the other way around: if you’re relaxed and friendly, your conversation partner probably will be too.
It’s pretty simple to put someone at ease. Speak slowly and softly, not loudly and quickly. Don’t point or jab. Nod when you agree with what they’re saying, and hold your tongue when you don’t. Finally, do the most obvious thing of all – smile!
That brings us to the trickier part of the exercise. To sensitively articulate disagreement, you’ll need to disarm your conversation partner. This means preempting negative interpretations by stating up front that you value their opinions and that you’re not out to challenge them.
Next, pay attention to how you shape the criticism itself. Start by praising the other person’s contribution and acknowledging that what they said or did made a lot of sense. Once you move on to the point of contention, resist tacking a “but you’re wrong” onto the end of that praise. Instead, formulate your criticism as a question – for example, say, “but I wonder whether we need to consider so-and-so?”
Combine these techniques, and you’ll be amazed by how much easier it becomes to solve disagreements.
The key message in these blinks is that:
To advance your career, you need to get noticed by the right people for the right things. But that doesn’t mean you should try to dazzle everyone with your brilliance. Your best bet is to stay humble and trust your peers to notice your talents. Be honest about your own mistakes, forgiving of others’, and diplomatic about disagreements – and you’ll be well on your way to success.
About the author
David Kronfeld is a venture capital investor and telecommunications expert with over 40 years of experience. A graduate of the Wharton School of Business, Kronfeld was a senior manager at Booz Allen before moving on to Boston Capital Ventures, where he served as a general partner. The founder of JK&B, a Chicago-based investment firm, he currently works as an independent consultant and investor.