Tuesday, February 26, 2008

When success goes to your head

He was one of the most successful nuts-men on the island. For the uninformed, a nuts-man is a peanut vendor. On this island, nuts, doubles, and corn-soup vendors can be found around every corner. Yet, for a while he managed to achieve a level of success that made him unique.

For a start, everyone knew him. They called him by his signature nickname. He dressed colorfully and attended all public events. Soon he needed to hire other vendors to work for him. Call it corporate expansion. Crowds would chant his name gaily, and his host of minions would toss packets of nuts into the audience, in exchange for dollar bills that passed downward from hand to hand and into their pockets. He became the CEO of nuts. He was sung about in calypsos and was colorfully imitated in Jouvay celebrations. He was even allowed to enter the Prime Minister’s private box. He became a local celebrity, the popular pre-show entertainment.

And one day, at an event where he was colorfully holding court, I purchased a packet of nuts. The nuts were tossed in my direction by a boy who could not be more than ten. Disturbing thoughts of child labor laws haunted as my fingers tore into the packet of nuts. They were cold. I signaled the nuts-man and when he came over, asked if I could exchange it for another packet of nuts because the one I had was stale.

You would swear I had cussed his mother.

He proceeded to berate me loudly. Soon he had attracted an audience, and zoomed in for the kill, reveling in the act of public humiliation. He accused me of telling lies, of talking shit, and not knowing what the ass I was speaking about because his nuts were always fresh, you hear me, always fresh!!

I could have told him that he was full of himself, but that would have been pouring fuel on his fiery fake-rage. I could have said that success was going to his head and that one day his head would become so big that it might explode. I could have but I didn’t. Instead I simply got up, walked over to the garbage can, and pointedly threw the packet of stale nuts inside. Several people around me applauded.

Popular conceptions of the successful entrepreneur include the stereotype of the independent businessman who remains passionately and single-mindedly focused on achieving his goals. And by this definition for a while this nuts-man was indeed a successful entrepreneur.

But current conceptualizations of entrepreneurial success have shifted to an emphasis on relationship. Effective entrepreneurs are now described as having a high level of what is called ‘successful intelligence’, which seems to consist of such traits as creativity, analytical thinking, and the ability to implement ideas in a practical manner.

In other words, successful entrepreneurs never lose sight of the people who work with them or who enjoy their products. And they flexibly adapt and adjust their style of working as their business grows or the environment around it changes.

On this island, nuts-men and their ilk come and go. He will probably never be forgotten. People may recall his heyday when he ruled the stands and was chased by women. But his nuts business has long since been a failure.

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