I spent the first 15 years of my career working in sales, with a big chunk of that time being devoted to advertising sales. I’m not sure if there is a more competitive work environment than one that is populated by people who live on commission. There’s a very distinct sense that the pie is finite and anything you get represents something I’m not getting.
There wasn’t a lot of building co-workers up going on in our morning meetings and the only people you’d expect to see offering a salesperson guidance was a sales manager. Sales people are tight lipped about their leads and their tricks of the trade because their co-workers are their competition.
Since changing career paths recently, I’ve been surprised to find that this unwillingness to share is not confined to sales. I’ve seen the proprietary hold on trade secrets in writers, editors, and designers. I’ve heard about it among project managers and legal experts. Time and again I see professionals keep a white knuckle grip on their knowledge in a desperate attempt to avoid helping anyone else get unfairly ahead.
What the heck is that about?
Has no one heard the adage about a rising tide raising all boats? Granted, that idiom is usually used in reference to the economy as a whole, but doesn’t it hold true on a smaller scale? If helping you helps my company or industry, that is good news for me.
When I worked in sales, I had no problem volunteering to train the new guys. I enjoyed brainstorming with my colleagues about possible leads or pitches. I celebrated with my friends at work when they closed a big deal, especially if I’d been encouraging them to go after it in the first place.
Occasionally, that came back to bite me. Once in a while someone would fly past me in the ranks and forget to acknowledge my help (or existence). And when that happened, I can’t deny that I was mad as hell.
But that was rare. And looking back, I think those instances were more about someone else being a slimeball than me being naive or lacking competitive drive.
I love competition.
But I also love progress. It doesn’t make sense to me to force someone to make the mistakes I have already made just because I had to. I don’t feel like my knowledge or skill set are “hard earned”, and therefore should be protected lest someone else come by them too easily.
I’m a fan of cooperation. I think what goes around comes around and it’s good living and good business to help out when you can. I’m eternally grateful to the people who have given me a leg up when they could and shared their own wisdom when I asked. I love when I’m able to pay that kindness forward.
What do you think? Is it really a dog-eat-dog world out there, or can we all do more by working together?