I thought you meant everybody el….

Back in the mid to late 90’s, I partnered with a friend to conduct Manufacturing Boot-Camps; these were the first ones ever. We brought in 10-15 entrepreneurs for a grueling 3 day training event at my friend’s sewing plant in Missouri. A necessary part of being accepted into the program was for attendees to sign a 2 page contract that stipulated safety attire and practices while in the plant. Each item in the contract also had to be initialed. The contract involved basic safety practices such as no dangling jewelry or accessories and solid footwear. Footwear was most the descriptive item; for example, steel toed shoes or boots were preferred but tennis shoes were acceptable. Ballet flats, heels or open toed shoes were strictly forbidden. The contract clearly stated that one would not be allowed to enter the plant (no refund) if not properly attired. For what it’s worth, I still impose those rules on visitors to my shop to this day.

To avoid coming off as heavy handed, we made things a little campy. As trainers, we wore U.S. Army surplus tee shirts with our last names embroidered on them. We wore custom made dog-tags with such titles as “Master Sargent” etc.. Attendees lined up for inspection at the entrance and upon entering, we gave them each a set of dog-tags personalized with their name and the date of the event. The dog tags amounted to a cute souvenir to lighten up a serious undertaking. We also gave certificates of completion that while not accredited by any organization, required completed project work and competencies, and these were awarded with all due seriousness.

But anyway. At one event, a pharmacist and her friend from Houston scuttled up to the door in high heeled sandals. I was shocked, this had never happened before. So I mentioned they’d have to return to their hotel to change their shoes but it turned out that all they brought were open toed heels. I’m still shaking my head over this, I tell you. The pharmacist protested so I mentioned the safety contract and pulled one out. She takes one look at it and says

I thought you meant everybody el…

Just shy of finishing that “else”,  it dawned on her.  She said she didn’t pay attention to the safety contract because she thought it applied to the plant workers* (who were helping with the event). Why wouldn’t factory workers, who worked there everyday, not know how to dress? It boggles the imagination. So we suggested she go buy some footwear whereupon she and her friend skedaddled to the closest Payless 30 miles away while the rest of us started the training program. She was high maintenance. I don’t know what was more traumatic, being kicked out the first day or having to wear shoes from Payless.

To this day, “I thought you meant everybody el…” is an inside joke between Mr. Fashion-Incubator and me.  We use it to describe unfortunate encounters with someone who clearly believes the rules do not apply to them but are for everybody else.

I should also mention that this lady was very nice and personable, not at all arrogant. Or rather I should say, she was what I’ve come to describe as “benignly arrogant” -which is really what I wanted to talk about because it seems to be increasing of late.

By benign arrogance, I mean someone who is genuinely nice but they take as a given that they know so much more than you do. They wouldn’t be so crass as to be condescending but proceed as though you hadn’t spoken because they are completely convinced they know everything about the business while you are “everybody el…”. I had a recent experience with another MBA, who after touring my place and discussing my business, asked how many people I made custom clothing for. I was speechless. Did he not see or hear anything I said? Or did he think I am a liar? He wants me to send him business but they don’t know clothes. Case in point, he didn’t understand why that their cutting table is only 8 feet long, was a problem. [I do hold high hopes for his operation though, very nice people, nice amenities, they just have much more to learn than imagined.]

The other day I got a request from a woman who wants to join the forum without having to purchase the book. She thinks I mean “everybody el…” because she “is” (claims to be) a first year professor of fashion. I said we make exceptions for those who would be an asset to members of our community so in what way did she think she would be an asset? She came back with stuff you’d read in a course description but that nobody cares about in real life and has certainly never been so much as mentioned as a question in the forum. But anyway, I passed off her exception request to our ombudsman who said:

She’s being dishonest because she doesn’t know it actually matters. She thinks it’s all stuff you can fake.

David Breashears talks about a formative year in the Wyoming oilfields. He needed work, he was young and strong, and he was eventually able to bluff himself into one of the work crews. When the crew realized that he didn’t know what he was doing they were furious. Someone who doesn’t know what they are doing could kill themselves and the other men on the crew.

K seems a little old to be learning these lessons — that when it counts, bluffing won’t cut it. Even if she’s cute.

I wasn’t convinced when the ombudsman first said this but I think she is right (she usually is) that this boils down to dishonesty. Anyone who thinks they can fake it till they make it is deluding themselves and if they get into positions of influence, can take a lot of other people down with them. Also, “K” isn’t a professor. Her LinkedIn profile shows 3 years of weak fashion experience but mostly work as a nail technician. She’s probably a course instructor at a scam school.  This is probably a poor example because most of the benignly arrogant people I’ve met have advanced degrees in an intellectually rigorous field.  Which circuitously brings me to something Jay Arbetman once said that his father said:

This is the only business where you can learn something from a dummy

And you know, it’s true. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to make a go of this and in some respects, it’s best one is not because smart people are infamous for being stupid. Paul Graham’s thoughts on it are also worth reading. He says smart people are stupid because they cannot easily see things from other people’s point of view. Forgive my clumsy attribution but it’s been said that if there are more than 30 IQ points between two people, they cannot communicate. This resonates with me because the people I’d most accuse of being benignly arrogant are those who are accustomed to being the smartest person in the room.  They are so used to it in fact, that any other (otherwise intelligent) person who holds dominion in an area they know nothing about or is -heaven forbid- a tradesman, is obviously someone who is not as smart as they are and while the “smart” person would never be so callous to condescend, they don’t extend genuine respect or courtesy by actively listening.
* The workers in my friend’s plant -his name is Troy- were all pranksters. Troy had started several training initiatives well before it became fashionable -talk about being ahead of the curve- so Troy was interviewed frequently by the media. Reporters and camera crews would show up to tour the facility and upon entering the sewing lines… would see all of the stitchers chained to their machines. Literally. Each lady had a heavy chain around one ankle, padlocked to the machine stand with a bucket off to one side and a roll of toilet paper on a thread stand. Another time, all the stitchers dressed up as witches and it wasn’t even Halloween.  They were always up to one trick or another and there were days when Troy dreaded going into the sewing room to see what they’d done next. I won’t even tell you about all the times they “redecorated”.  It was always one thing or another. But yeah, it was a great place to work.


  1. Miracle says:


    I cannot tell you how timely his is for me. I joined an entrepreneur mastermind, meeting once a week on Skype. On the first call, I was “heated” about one particular woman on the call. I couldn’t tell if she was being territorial because another woman showed up or whatever. The experience left me with such a bad disposition that I stopped joining the calls.

    Maybe a week or so later, I happened to be on Skype (which I almost never am) when the call came so I joined in. She wasn’t online. It was great. I got two, maybe three, calls in. Last night was another call. She was back. I sighed but joined anyway.

    I disconnected about 15 minutes in and called a friend to rant. I was so heated but couldn’t put my finger on why. And when I say heated, I mean heated, I was abnormally disturbed by this person. I was specifically asking a question to someone else, that was very direct and targeted, and she butted in with “I presume” when she has absolutely no knowledge of the subject matter. What you presume, I can google, I wasn’t asking you and I don’t want you stopping me from getting information from someone who knows.

    I was heated.

    Can you tell?

    This right here:

    This resonates with me because the people I’d most accuse of being benignly arrogant are those who are accustomed to being the smartest person in the room. They are so used to it in fact, that any other (otherwise intelligent) person who holds dominion in an area they know nothing about or is -heaven forbid- a tradesman, is obviously someone who is not as smart as they are and while the “smart” person would never be so callous to condescend, they don’t extend genuine respect or courtesy by actively listening.

    Is exactly it.

    I’m saving this quote.

    Thank you.Report

  2. patricia says:

    Thank you for the great post Kathleen. That’s so true.

    Your words “Anyone who thinks they can fake it till they make it is deluding themselves and if they get into positions of influence, can take a lot of other people down with them.” could be a theme for a book.

    From winning the lottery to opening a fashion business… anyone can get there but KEEP that position of prestige is a task reserved only for the few who spent time studying, planning and doing all the “boring” stuff.

    “Smart” people usually join any conversation full of presumptions. They lose so much because of that… if they only knew it…

    Miracle – just ignore this lady and keep joining your mastermind meetings if you feel you have what to learn from them. If she butts in again trying to answer your questions, ignore her and ask another person… see her as she really is: someone who needs help.Report

  3. Jennifer says:

    (Long-time reader of the blog, first time posting, I think.)

    I am one of those Benignly Arrogant people. Sadly, I am not sure how much hope there is for us. (The Jonah Lehrer article you link mentions that people who are aware of their cognitive biases still can’t usually avoid them.) Still, I am striving to be a better listener and learner.

    I am delurking, though, to tell Kathleen that this blog has been one of the biggest contributors to expanding my own metacognition over the last several years. Thank you for what you do here. I’m sure the practical information you provide to DEs is highly valuable (and I now make great welt pockets on my home-sewn garments, thanks!), but the reminders of how much I don’t know are priceless.Report

  4. Miracle says:

    –Miracle – just ignore this lady and keep joining your mastermind meetings if you feel you have what to learn from them–

    I wish I could. I have a very particular personality. The group is full of comparably yoked people and I have as much to share as I have to gain. If it were a group where I could be entirely a sponge, I would.

    I really wish I could explain how much of a nerve this struck with me.Report

  5. Kathleen Fasanella

    That’s heady praise from you Miracle, and you too Jennifer. I find myself halfheartedly hoping the resident Nobel Prize winner will delurk to comment too.

    Jennifer: agreed as to cognitive biases and the inability to compensate for them. My husband keeps me honest, painful tho it sometimes is. It’s one reason I knew I had to marry him.

    I really wish I could explain how much of a nerve this struck with me.

    I have an idea of how heated you might have been since we’ve discussed it (and I’m not sure who gets more heated). Coincidentally, I was re-reading what you wrote on fauxperts the other day.

    Edit: this other link is even better.Report

  6. Adrienne says:

    This is exactly why I keep a pair of steel toed boots in my trunk ;) I never want to miss out on an opportunity to learn because of my footwear. Some of the best things I have learned were when I was wearing all kinds of protective gear and forced to remove the jewelry I wear every day.

    I wonder if that is a clue about the benignly arrogant, do they not enjoy learning? Ha, listen to me, I have no clue if I am a benignly arrogant person and I already refer to them as if I am not their chief! All I know is that loving to learn about this industry is what keeps me coming back through all the struggles and headaches.

    “If it were a group where I could be entirely a sponge, I would. ”

    I will never forget the first time someone said that I was a sponge… I was really young and I didn’t get it :) Now, I take as a compliment, of course. Never do I want to know what it’s like to NOT be a sponge.Report

  7. Kathleen says:

    Do they enjoy learning? I think so and probably quite a lot. The issue (I think) is of selection bias; what they consider a credible, interesting and useful source.

    For example, I showed some out of print and truly invaluable books I had to the guy who visited me. As I need for his operation to develop into clothing and I liked him, I offered to sell him one of them for what I paid for it, $30. He didn’t do more than glance at the covers, completely uninterested. I was doing him a tremendous favor, I don’t offer that to just anyone. I’m guessing now he just thought I was so hard up from sewing skirts for individuals that I needed the $30 and of course, that the books weren’t important.Report

  8. Miracle says:

    I’m guessing now he just thought I was so hard up

    I think it goes deeper than that.

    Me personally, I don’t want to have to bother prefacing everything with: I have experience, I know this, the reason I am suggesting this is because I have years of layered knowledge that I don’t want to bother to explain so just take my word for it. It gets annoying. I’ve found as I’ve gotten older I have had much less patience for people who feel like you need to qualify every.single.thing you say or do.Report

  9. Kathleen says:

    I neglected to mention that if you can find these books at all, they go for $600-$1,000. so if I were hard up, I’d sell them elsewhere. $30 was just what I’d paid however many years ago and I offered at that price so he wouldn’t think it was a financially motivated transaction.

    I know what you mean Miracle, I really do. I also have less patience and restrict my targeted advice to paying customers (which includes forum members of course). For so many free advice seekers, we aren’t real people. We’re marionettes that spring to life when they walk into the room. We aren’t authorities because they’ve never heard of us before.Report

  10. Natasha E says:

    I have always been surprised how common bluffing is. I used to feel like an underachiever until I realized everyone else was lying. Whew.

    I can always tell when a coworker is lying about experience especially when they say they have “years” of experience in hospice by the questions they ask or don’t ask during handoff. They don’t have that eye yet and I can tell. Usually they will bluff and then complain later they didn’t get a good report from the previous nurse. How its done in school is not real life.

    I wonder which pretend place this person is teaching at because in my area ever fashion instruction job private or otherwise is hotly contested so much so the director at the community college I am just about finished wrapping my degree up at got a doctorate to cement her position.Report

  11. Lauren Forney says:

    Kathleen, you mentioned the 8 foot cutting table not being enough. I know it’s not in line with the overall topic of this post, but I’m curious what size most production cutting tables are, as well as the “average” or minimum lengths of most markers. Is this covered in another post?Report

  12. Kathleen says:

    Before I forget, a link that is related (going from prototype to production sewing pt.2) but alas, will not answer your question.

    There is no average, too many variables. If you’re making tiny bikinis or baby clothes and can spread high layers, a 12 foot table would be okay even with a thousand or more units to cut.

    Generally -and in my opinion- a party that purports to provide cutting and sewing services should have at least 20 feet of table -and this is for a very small contract operation. A company that is larger (such as the one mentioned in this post, with 50 employees) should have two tables (if not three) of 20-40 feet in length. One table to spread and let the fabric rest 24 hours and the other to cut on. This way cutting can be ongoing in cycles. One also needs space to sort, mark and bundle.

    I only provide pattern, grading, marking and prototyping services but even I have a 28 foot table. That said, there are no real limits for pattern services because we’re not spreading much. My friend Sally only has an 8 foot table.Report

  13. Quincunx says:

    Tangential, but: Is a continuous, closed loop (the kind you more often see as body jewelry) a ‘dangling earring’? Is that one of the hazardous types of jewelry that would have to be taken out before entering a sewing plant?Report

  14. Kathleen says:

    Quin: Is there a possibility that a loop, closed or open, could cause a danger? My experience says yes. I saw a woman rip out an earlobe on a thread stand once. IMO, she was lucky. In other possible circumstances, she could have lost a hand or some fingers with a bracelet. Or just as likely, she could have caused an injury to someone else. Few cutters lose fingers due to their own fault; it’s usually an adjoining worker who causes the injury which is why one must be vigilant because someone else can cause the injury.

    Nose rings are *exactly* the right height to be ripped out. I had one student here with piercings and such and when I asked her to remove her nose ring, started to read me the riot act about her freedom of self expression. She didn’t get very far with that argument.

    Generally, never wear something into *any* manufacturing environment that could pose a hazard to you or other people. Do not wear anything into *any* plant that would distress you if it were ruined.

    It brings to mind why drawstrings are banned in children’s attire; drawstring ends aren’t loops but they have been caught in school bus doors and the child dragged and killed.

    I’ve had two injuries in my workplace in 18 years. Once I sewed one of my fingers. The second time wasn’t too long ago. A student was operating a machine but then bent to retrieve something on the floor and hit his head on the metal sewing machine drawer he’d left open. He ended up with a two inch gash. I felt so bad for him, he was embarrassed as he knew better (he is an industrial engineer with a lot of plant experience). But anyway, I worry about injury. After 30+ years, you see enough disfigurement to be cautious.Report

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