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Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.

“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” -Epictetus

The Story

A young man was brought into a company by its CEO to consult with its executives.

The executives were in the process of making one mistake after another, and the young man knew what was going to happen. They were going to kill the business, and then he told them so.

Each time he brought up a new solution to their problems, the executives found something wrong with it.

He told them his credentials. He’d done this before — and not to brag — he’d done it in a way that was at a far larger scale than any of them. So why weren’t they listening and taking his advice?!

The execs provided no argument at all except making scoffing noises, then looking at each other and laughing.

It was maddening.

The young man didn’t let disrespect like this go…

(Scroll to the bottom to read the rest of The Story!)

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The Story (continued)

… The conversation quickly devolved into shouting — the young man against the older execs.

Before the young man could continue, he felt a huge hand fall on his shoulder. It was the CEO who invited him to consult with his team of executives. Everyone in the room fell silent. The CEO told the young man to either calm himself or leave.

Crestfallen, the young man left. He walked out of the conference room and into the foggy California morning. In the parking lot, he sank into the seat of his Mercedes and started to cry.

A few minutes later, he heard a knock on the window. It was the CEO.

The CEO was shocked. He had never seen an outsider, employee, exec, consultant, advisor, investor or vendor — nobody — who cared this much about business.

The young man got out of the car and the CEO patted him on the back.

“‘It’s okay,” said the CEO. “I get that you’re trying to help, and you think that we’re making a mistake.”

“You are,” said the young man. “I was trying to warn your team so you don’t lose the business. If you don’t do what I recommended, the business will collapse.”

The CEO chuckled and shook his head. “You don’t let it drop, do you?”

“No,” said the young man. “Not when it’s a life or death thing for the business.”

“I think it’s just a different style of communicating,” said the CEO. “My executives aren’t used to it.”

‘I’m sorry. I’m too wound up,” he said. “I live in two worlds.”

“It’s okay. You should come back in,” said the old man.

“I’m going to leave. I know I was out of order. I just wanted them to listen.”

“It’s okay. Come back in.”

“I’m going to go in and apologize. And then I’m going to leave,” said the young man.

To the CEO’s disbelief, the young man, with streaks of tears still on his face, walked into the room filled with older executives, apologized, then left without saying another word.

The CEO and execs would never see the young man in person again. But they soon saw him everywhere else. As the years went by, they remembered his advice. It had been spot on… almost prophetic. They didn’t follow it, and because of that, they almost lost the business.

The young man had big ideas and he cared. The problem was, at the time he gave his advice to the execs, his current situation didn’t suggest that they should listen.

He had been ousted from his first company, and now that company was in serious debt.

The young man had a reputation for having a never-ending stream of ideas. What was worse, he seemed to think that most of them were good. On top of that, the young man was trying to start two new companies at once.

These were all red flags to the execs.

Besides, the young guy couldn’t make it through a business meeting without yelling or crying!

You might think that the young man in the story would go on to a life of obscurity, or fail to have a successful business career.

For a while, it looked like this would be the case.

After being kicked out of his first company, the young man spent a decade in the wilderness. He had “destroyed” his reputation.

But what if destroying our reputation is exactly what we need?

What if not being afraid to destroy our reputation — in pursuit of truth — is a superpower?

The young man in the story is Steve Jobs.

Steve’s story forces us to ask some serious questions.

Is a full range of emotions, and extreme sincerity really so bad?

What if caring about something so much that you break down crying when you defend it… isn’t a bad thing?

So, what brings you to tears?

We’re constantly told that reputation is something that takes decades to build, and can be destroyed in minutes. That’s only partially true.

One of Steve Jobs favorite poets, Rumi, has a great line:

“Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.”

In order to pursue truth, serve others, and create a business that is a force for good, we might have to destroy our “reputations.” We might have to build a new reputation. One that rubs some people the wrong way. One that inspires other people… the right people.

To get started, you’ll have to build your reputation.

But to take things to the next level, you might have to destroy your reputation and become notorious.

(Psssttt… And for more lessons from Steve Jobs and Apple, listen to 40 Years of Apple Ads.)

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