A simple formula for getting ahead

There is a simple formula for getting ahead. Follow it and a good many of your wishes will come your way.

Here are a few of the millions of instances when people ignore it.

The auto unions ignore it. Yes, they have given back some of their benefits. Yes, incoming UAW workers make less than older workers. That is a concession.

But the UAW has resisted enough that it still costs Detroit automakers an extra $16 an hour in wages and benefits to build cars here. That is, $16 an hour more than Toyota pays American workers to build cars here.

And so Ford is investing $3 billion in Mexico to build new Fiestas. Who can blame them? Could the UAW have kept these jobs in Detroit? Good chance, but it would have had to do something it never does. It would have had to ask Ford what the UAW could do to help Ford. Instead, it asks what it can do to help the UAW. In other words, it thinks of benefitting itself instead of thinking of how it might benefit Ford.

A few years ago the UAW had 1.5 million members. Today, only about 500,000, and falling.

Printers unions did the same years ago, when there were far more newspapers. They thought only of their own interests. They never asked how they could help the newspapers. The papers were their enemies, they reckoned. And so their newspapers went out of business, by the dozens.

Dockworker unions thought only of themselves. Until they had driven away the shipping and all their jobs were lost.

Today we would be smart to ask oil companies what we could do, as a nation, to help them bring down prices. We would be even smarter to listen to what they say.

Instead, we humiliate their execs because the companies make “excessive profits.” They do not. Their rate of profit is less than that of most industries. We threaten them with added taxes to punish them for “windfall profits.”

In other words, we think only of ourselves. Only of our discomfort in paying $4 for gas. We never bother to ask the oil companies what this nation could do to help them provide more and cheaper energy.

Not long ago I attended an inaugural address of a new college president. Everybody in the audience wondered how their jobs, their departments, their salaries would be affected by the new president's policies.

Did he address their concerns? Nah. Talked only of how pleased and happy he was to be taking on the new job. Managed to lose a lot of support with one address. A self-centered address, filled with I’s, me’s and my’s.

Today a fund raiser at another college told me he had been stymied trying to “get a dialogue” going with a famous graduate. The grad is a wildly successful artist. And rich.

I asked “What are you offering to do for him?”

“We want to make him aware of how his old college is doing. And show him some of the opportunities we have for him to help us progress.”

In other words, they want to hit him up for money. He knows it, of course. I suggested they stop thinking about their own interest. They might start thinking of his. Could they offer to archive his work? Could they create summer art workshops under his banner. Could they run an annual symposium devoted to his type of art, create a chair in the art department with his name on it?

The list was endless. The fund raiser had never considered any of the ideas. He had thought only of his college’s interests. He had never thought how the college could benefit the famous grad.

The message here is similar to one I have given to countless interns over the years. They all want to know how to write the perfect resume. And how to behave perfectly in their job interviews.

I tell them to imagine a sticky note on the forehead of whoever they are trying to impress. The note reads “So? What’s in it for me?”

Whether it is Ford, a big newspaper, a famous grad, a partner, a customer, they all wonder what is “in it” for them. Figure out how to help them and you will help yourself.

From Tom...as in Morgan.

For more columns and for Tom’s radio shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com

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