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The New How by Nilofer Merchant

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Chapter 2. Each of Us

A bird the size of a leaf Fills the whole lucid evening With his note And flies.

Wendell Berry

When Individuals Step Up Their Game, the Overall Game Gets Better

At the midpoint in my career, one day I found myself considering a set of difficult questions: What would make me a more valuable contributor? Could I be strategic? What aspects of myself should I cultivate to be the best at what I do? Are there things I could learn to be more influential? How could I make more of a difference?

These questions surfaced shortly after I had won a key argument about how my firm’s marketing department should spend a $2 million budget most effectively to achieve the revenue target. I cared a great deal about how they spent the money, because I was directly accountable for a significant $58 million chunk of revenue (out of $400 million overall).

I was, of course, quite sure that my position on how to spend the money was correct. I had studied the issues carefully, formed airtight arguments that supported my position, and worked the halls to build political alliances. To further increase my chances of winning, I told people why my opponent, the marketing lead, didn’t really “get” the business. And I had no trouble publicly highlighting the flaws in the logic of her arguments and opinions.

In the end, the decision was rendered in my favor and I received grand accolades from the higher ups. I won. I won because I had armed myself with facts and details. I won because I was argumentative ...

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