Credibility Doesn’t Matter Nearly As Much As We Think

We’re told that credibility matters. We’re told to go to college and get a degree from a good university. That will supposedly help us later in life.

When I talk about credibility, I’m referring to the type that is bestowed upon you by someone else for completing a course or belonging to a club. Credibility often comes with letters behind your name.

The old fashioned way of thinking about credibility relies on where you went to school, who you associate with, what grades you got, and what extracurricular activities you participated in.

True, many companies are more likely to hire Ivy League graduates than those from lesser schools, but these hires aren’t always based on competency.

Often times, it’s beneficial for a company to hire Ivy League grads because they have marketing value. It allows the employers to say “We have the brightest minds working for us! We only hire from the best schools!”

But does that guarantee performance?

Of course not.

Does it raise the average?

Absolutely. But average is not very good.

Consider what the average American man and woman weighs 195 lbs and 166 lbs (88 and 75 kg respectively). Those are obscene numbers. Average is pretty terrible.

Even the average Harvard graduate is pretty terrible. Less terrible than your average dropout, but still not great.

One of the beautiful things about the business world is that it doesn’t test your credibility one bit. Business people don’t actually care about your credentials. If you’re applying for a job, they want to know if you can actually do the job.

When companies search for new candidates, they’ll say you need previous experience, a relevant education and you need to meet a bunch of other criteria to apply. What they’re actually saying is that they need someone who can do the things they want done.

If you’re that person, you can get that job as long as you can prove that you can produce results. Of course, you don’t want an uncredentialed heart-surgeon… But maybe it’s not such a bad idea to pick the heart surgeon that got his degree from Mediocre University instead of the one that graduated from Harvard Medical School, especially if they hold the exact same job.

What matters is your ability to provide value and produce results. Sports and business are similar in that sense; the only thing that matters is results.

I don’t care how many years a restaurant has been in business, how many famous people have sat on the same chairs and eaten the same food. Credibility can help, but if you’re not producing results, then you are out of the game. If the food is shit, the food is shit.

The operating question in both sports and business is “What have you done for me lately?”

Sports teams ask this question all the time. Recently, performance trumped credentials in a big way in the world of soccer. Manchester United sold Wayne Rooney to Everton. Rooney is only 31 years old and has at least 4 good years of high level play left in his legs.

Unfortunately for Manchester United, Wayne Rooney’s high level was not high level enough for the club and they sold him.

He hadn’t done enough to warrant a place in the team in the past few years. He hadn’t done enough lately. There’s no question about Wayne Rooney’s credibility. He’s won countless trophies and individual honours, become the greatest ever goalscorer at the club, and is a living legend.

That doesn’t matter when you have to get results today!

Credibility has taken a hit in the past 100 years. For example:

  • Fortune 500 companies spend an average of 15 years on the list before they’re out.
  • Lehman Brothers, founded in 1850 and the fourth largest investment bank in the US merely ten years ago, famously went bust in 2008.
  • Blockbuster got annihilated.
  • Legendary accounting firm Arthur Andersen played an integral role in the Enron scandal and now mainly serves as a warning of what fraud will get you.

A lot of the product and service categories that we now deal in don’t have a very long track record. Remember, iPhones are only ten years old.

Despite all these things pointing towards credibility being less important than believability, the credibility game still exists. It’s a weird sort of matrix.

Imagine there are three layers to society. Those who are above it, those who are below it, and those who are in it. Those who are below society refuse to participate in any way. Those who are above society understand the rules of the game and can manipulate them in their favour.

And the vast majority of people belong to the middle, the average, those who spend their lives creating and following rules.

Being in the middle is very comfortable because it requires very little thought. You can afford to let your guard down a little bit, to be less vigilant at all times. There is order around you and that order is very manageable.

Whenever you choose to take a less trodden path, you can’t rely on the norms and rules that society has created for you.

People who produce exceptional performances do things differently than the people who are average.

They actually live in a different world than most people do.

When you’re walking down one of those less trodden paths, there’s nothing to judge you by except for the results that you produce. Walking down that less trodden path also means that people will have a hard time figuring out how to measure and judge you.

Most mid-level managers live in that middle matrix that I mentioned: in the world of average. They use credentials to make their decisions because they have a hard time judging performance that comes outside of the way they are used to seeing it.

But the beautiful thing is that most people actually buy based on results. They act based on results. If you can back up your claims with results, you win the game. It doesn’t matter whether you started last week for 100 years ago.

Getting results is infinitely more important than anything else you do. You need to produce and achieve today.

Credentials can be appreciated and sold, but the operating question has to be “what have you done for me lately?”

If you’re in business, ten great testimonials is a lot better than a hundred years of history. In the case of Wayne Rooney, 20 goals last season would have kept him at Manchester United way more than the 250 goals in the last 15 years did.