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.
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* 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.

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