Some 28 years ago (when I was 18), and in the same building as my current office, I experienced my very first job in sales.  This telesales role was selling advertising in the in-house magazines and diaries of police and fire federations and associations.  This was all very new to me, and the office had a very high turnover of staff.  As luck would have it, I soon found I had the knack of being persuasive with complete strangers, and establishing relationships.  Communication and networking skills is what we put on CV’s nowadays.  I had found my vocation!

What I also soon discovered, was that the more sales I generated, the more my opinion was considered valuable by peers and bosses.  I learned to keep my mouth shut, when performing badly, and to speak freely when exceeding targets.  No-one wants to hear the views of a loser, and winners have the spotlight thrown on them, as an example to other staff.  Looking back from my present vantage point, I know I was an idiot, but at the time I thought I was always right, and people mostly agreed with me. This perceived wisdom extended beyond the workplace, and afforded my other opinions unmerited gravitas, whether it be on business, politics or other matters.  This continued throughout my career as a recruiter.  Swaggering up to the board to record another placement, reinforced my influence in other areas too.

The origins of the Olympic games (bear with me here)  are rooted in the myth of warring nations agreeing to compete for sporting honours, rather than send their citizens to die in battle.  The winning nation therefore, was proven to be superior, and honour was served.  The notion that Might is Right is as old as mankind, and switching from warring superiority to sporting, intellectual or even sales abilities is a natural extension of that.  Didn’t the USSR and China assert that their form of communism was proven to be correct, by the number of medals won at the Olympics?  We see the very same tribal assertions in evidence in all sports.  Catholicism is buttressed when Celtic win the league, racism is confounded when South Africa win a rugby match, and being gay is endorsed when Will Young has a number one record.  Winning means you are perceived as being better than the others, and this extends beyond the game or contest itself.  No-one ever enquired after the political opinions of boxers who lost to Muhammed Ali.

Being stronger in the playground certainly meant that you got your own way, but it didn’t make you right. The weight of anyone’s arguments is never truly augmented by an unrelated talent, skill or physical ability.  If it was, then we’d have Stevie Gerard or John Terry running the country.  Similarly, asking a successful actor her political opinions is akin to challenging David Cameron to a bare-knuckle street-fight.  

So remember, the smartest person in your office may not be the young buck, who’s making all the sales.  Might and Right do not always come in the same package.

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Stephen O'Donnell is a lifelong recruiter, internet enthusiast, fadgadget and peripatetic writer.

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