I was one of two deputy creative directors at BMP.
One day the managing director came to see me.
He said, “We’ve got a real problem with (the other deputy CD).
He never stops complaining about you to the entire board, and anyone else that will listen.”
I said, “What sort of things does he say?”
The MD said, “He says you can’t do your job.
That you’re not as good as he is.
That nobody likes you, they’d all prefer to be working for him.
That you shouldn’t be a deputy CD, he should be the only one.”
I knew the MD was right.
I had found advertising annuals the other deputy CD had left on John Webster’s desk, with Post-it notes reading, “This is where Trott stole his latest TV idea from.”
To be fair it was getting to be a bit of a drag.
So I thought about the problem for a bit.
Then I said to the MD, “Why don’t you give him a raise?”
The MD said, “Why would we do that, he’s making himself a pain in the arse?”
I said, “Yes, but John’s not going to fire him for that is he?
And anyway, he’s a good writer.
We just want to make the problem go away.
And the problem is that this guy sees me as direct competition.
Give him a raise so he’s earning more than me.
Then he won’t feel threatened by me.
That’ll make the problem go away and I can get on with my work without the constant aggravation.”
The MD said, “Wouldn’t you mind if we gave him a raise and not you?”
I said, “Not really. What I earn compared to him is irrelevant to me.
If he earns more than me, it doesn’t make my salary worth any less.
And if he earns less than me it doesn’t make my salary worth any more.
I still get what I get.
It just gets him off my back.”
And that’s how it worked out.
As soon as the guy knew he was earning more than me he relaxed.
He was even quite patronizing towards me, as if he felt sorry for me.
Because he thought he’d won, and I’d lost.
But I didn’t mind.
Because he never knew it was my idea.
And it solved the problem.
See he was a guy who was interested in rising inside BMP, and the only way he knew how to do that was by internal politics.
I was interested in building a career in advertising.
And I thought the only way to do that was through the work.
So internal politics didn’t interest me.
I just wanted to do as much good work as I could get my hands on, as fast as I could.
Now, if I had let this guy get me angry, I might have started to play him at his own game.
I would have started bad mouthing him around the agency.
I would have tried to prove to John Webster that he was crap.
I would have had to play internal politics instead of concentrating on the work.
But the problem with playing his game is just that.
It’s his game.
It’s not mine.
And if it’s his game, he must be better at it.
And why would I play a game I’m sure to lose at?
So I didn’t let him write my agenda.
I kept my eye on where I wanted to go, and let him carry on going where he wanted to go.
This is a lesson we can learn from sports.
That’s why boxers, footballers, even cricketers, insult each other during the match.
If your opponent can distract you, they can win.
If they can make you lose your temper, you stop thinking clearly.
You leave your rational mind, and go into your emotional mind.
And then you’re not so good.
And then they win.
As Buddha said, “Act, don’t react.”