Can You Be Nice And Successful?

March 29, 2013 6:22 am

The one common characteristic of wildly successful founders is this: They are generally very demanding, tough bosses which by definition makes them not so nice people. Not from a personal standpoint, but from a professional standpoint. Here is a challenge for you: Pick any successful entrepreneur. Think of three words that best describe him / her. Better still, use three short sentences to describe him / her. We bet ‘He/ She is a nice person’ will not be one of the three sentences, even if you repeat the experiment for, say 10 founders that you consider to be successful. The more successful the person is, the probability of the word ‘nice’ appearing anywhere close to their name drops down exponentially towards zero.

Well one can argue that essential winning traits – like the ability to say ‘No’, convincing others, getting things done – all of these make a person ‘not so nice’. We had identified these traits in our Brand New MBA Curriculum as well. But it is the corollary that we are worried about most – ‘if you are a nice person, you cannot be successful?’

Well, we have one person supporting this theory (well, almost): Paul Graham.

“When we first knew the Octoparts they were lighthearted, cheery guys. Now when we talk to them they seem grimly determined. The electronic parts distributors are trying to squash them to keep their monopoly pricing. (If it strikes you as odd that people still order electronic parts out of thick paper catalogs in 2007, there’s a reason for that. The distributors want to prevent the transparency that comes from having prices online.) I feel kind of bad that we’ve transformed these guys from lighthearted to grimly determined. But that comes with the territory. If a startup succeeds, you get millions of dollars, and you don’t get that kind of money just by asking for it. You have to assume it takes some amount of pain.”

That definitely seems to support our theory here – ‘if you are a nice person, you cannot be successful?’ – Is that true? Or, are we confusing cause and effect?

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1 Comment for “Can You Be Nice And Successful?”

  1. If you are successful, you are not a nice person, since you are going to piss off lot of people with what you want to achieve, and others are going to work hard to stop you from achieving it whether it is in business, politics or in life.

    You have to defeat them, so the only way you can change your ugly narrative is by winning and then you can be like Bill Gates and spend the rest of your life changing your image.

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