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Top 10 Things I've Learned at Work

These ten simple truths about life and business were extracted from years of working with people and ideas.
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The other day my eight year old son asked me: "What did you learn at work today?" He was, of course, mimicking my daily question about what he learned at school. Even so, his question got me thinking: "What HAVE I learned at work?"  Not just today, but every day.

So I sat back and thought about it for a while and I came up with this list, which encapsulates the most valuable things I've learned over the years working with everybody from programmers to salespeople to top executives:

1. You can do anything, but you can't do everything.

Life has an infinite number of possibilities and your ability to achieve success is limited only by your imagination. However, there are always trade-offs and sometimes moving in one direction prevents you from moving in another.

2. You can't argue somebody out of a belief.

Most people think their beliefs result from objective fact. Actually, people organize and interpret facts according to their beliefs. Therefore, the more facts that you marshal for your argument, the less the other person is likely to change beliefs.

3. Pressure creates resistance.

The natural human reaction to being pushed is to push back. This is why the "hard sell" doesn't work today and, indeed, has never worked. It's also why heavy-handed management techniques always fail.

4. All you can change are your thoughts and actions.

Most of the misery and disappointment in life and in business emerges from the fruitless quest to 1) make other people change and 2) change the course of outside events. All you truly control is how you think, what you say, and what you do.

5. You never know what other people are thinking.

Everyone in the world has three faces. The first they present to the world at large, the second they share with their friends and family, and the third they keep completely to themselves.

6. You live up (or down) to your expectations.

I once met a guy who was dead broke, on drugs, overweight, often drunk and who had drifted in and out of jail and bad relationships. On his right shoulder was a tattoo he'd gotten when he was 16. It read "Born Loser."

7. The "good old days" weren't all that good.

Many people wish they'd been born in a simpler time, like the 1950s, the Victorian period, or the middle ages. What utter foolishness! By any reasonable measure, we live in the best, the healthiest, and the happiest time in all history.

8. Great product ideas are a dime a dozen.

There are millions of great ideas floating around that, if implemented, could make somebody millions of dollars. But it's never the ideas that matter. It's the ability to implement one idea and make it something real.

9. Nobody has a monopoly on truth.

Politicians, priests, prophets, and pundits all claim that they (and they alone) know the truth. While they may be sincere, they are human beings and therefore their "truth" is a product of a fallible human mind, and therefore incomplete.

10. All you need is love.

The Beatles may have been seriously pot-addled in the 1960s, but they definitely got this one right. When it comes down to it, it's your ability to feel and express love that will bring you both the greatest happiness and success.

Readers: Speaking of love, I'd love to hear what some of you have learned at work.  Leave a comment!

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IMAGE: dwonderwall/Flickr
Last updated: Jun 17, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is "Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts that You Need to Know."

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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