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And YOU Went To Harvard?

April 15, 2021

The worst thing about graduating from Harvard is that if you make a simple mistake like miscounting your change, people say, ‘And YOU went to Harvard’!
– Conan O’Brian Harvard class of 1985

The Internet made writers of us all. It also made us all editors. Some of us are better editors than others. Many Internet and facebook “discussions” feature the Grammar Police jumping in to correct grammar or spelling.

I once had a guy working for me named Mark. Mark was really smart. He was a great engineer. He, like many people wanted, to promoted. He certainly had the skills for it. Unfortunately Mark was a poor speller. His sentences were fine, but, like many of us, he’d mess up the spelling on simple words.

As his manager, I could recommend him for promotion, but the other managers in the department had influence as well. And there was no way they were going to recommend someone who sent out misspelled emails.

Mark and I worked on it for months. He turned on spellcheck. He started asking me to review his department-wide emails. And the next time promotion boards came up, his name was at the top of the list.

Mark was the same engineer in both scenarios. But, people judged him, as often happens, on his ability to spell. Mark is now a Global Architecture VP for a large bank.

I have a friend who is a New York Times bestselling author. He’s sold millions of books and earned a lot of money and more importantly a lot of fame as an author, editor, and instructor.

My friend is offering a class on writing that I’m taking. We meet once a week via Zoom. He has a PowerPnt and goes through the writing, editing, publishing process. The course, is the same one that Stephanie Meyers took before she wrote Twilight. It’s a really good course and he’s a really good teacher.

However, during every class there is at least one slide where my friend says,

Sorry, it says ‘hot’ on the screen, that should be ‘not.’

Or something to that effect. His slides are full of typos. This man who makes his living writing for a living, and teaching others to write, has multiple simple spelling errors.

How would you feel about paying money to take a class on writing and the instructor’s slides are full of errors? Would it influence your opinion of the class? Of the instructor?

Our class yesterday was all about agents and publishers. The course is normally about an hour, but this one went much longer. Finally, as he completed the last slide, my friend looked at the clock and without a hint of sarcasm said,

And I covered all of that in 24 minutes.

He literally thought that he’d been talking for less than 30 minutes.

Wait, is my clock right? Is it really 8:24?

He lost track of the time. He has taught at universities. He gets paid to travel around the world giving speeches and presentations and he honestly mistook 84 minutes for 24.

I’m a reasonably talented public speaker. I’ve done it at times and been paid a lot for it. I know how to avoid all the “ticks” that presenters should do. Don’t giggle your keys. Don’t snap your pen. Clean the white board by erasing up and down, not side to side. (Otherwise your butt wiggles.) One of the big ones is to avoid awkward words or pauses. Don’t put in “um,” “ya know,” or “ok.”

My friend ends nearly every sentence with “Ok.” It’s not even a true question. It’s a filler word.

All of these might make you think that my friend’s course probably isn’t worth the money. After all, it’s full of mistakes. It has poor presentation. He loses track of time.

But, just like Marc, the engineer that worked for me, my friend is extremely talented. And spelling is not what he’s necessarily talented at. The course fills up instantly. It has a waiting list. He could teach twice or three times as many courses.

Too often we use the wrong criteria to evaluate people. I know a young man who just became a Journeyman electrician. He’s 20 years old and running crews much older than he is. But, he doesn’t even have a high school diploma. He got a GED and then learned to be an electrician in Job Corps. It would be wrong to judge him by his lack of a diploma.

Just going to Harvard doesn’t mean you never make a mistake. Being a world famous writer doesn’t mean you can spell. Look at what people can DO. Stop using the wrong metrics.

Oh, that also means that you are qualified and capable at what you do!

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2021 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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