In athletics, as well as business, I’ve always had a fondness for the gutsy competitor, the type who wouldn’t back down from anyone.  Pete Rose.  Wayne Gretzky.  Bobby Knight.  George Patton.  Vince Lombardi.  Frank Sinatra.  Lee Iacocca.

All legendary for pushing the envelope.  And you know how I feel about envelopes.

There are times, though, when the scalpel works better than the sledgehammer.

I was sitting in the audience at a city council hearing many years ago when the agenda items that preceded my zoning variance were two liquor license violations.  Both involved after hours sales, hardly a great moral issue.

The first bar owner had hired an expensive attorney who seemed more interested in trying to impress his client than the council members, and that’s exactly what happened.  Flashing gold cufflinks and a matching Rolex, and wearing what looked like a $2,000 suit, he tried to bowl over the council with a lot of legal terminology and thinly veiled threats of lawsuits against the city.  The $9,000-a-year council members hated him on sight.  What did they care if he sued the city?  They weren’t personally liable.  Result: guilty to the max.  The bar’s license was suspended for 10 days.

That may not sound like much, but in the saloon business it can be fatal.  there’s always another bar.  It doesn’t take long to switch loyalties.

Next case.  The second bar owner represented himself.  His clothes looked like he’d picked them out that morning from the Salvation Army free bin.  In a voice barely above a whisper, he apologized to the distinguished council members.  Business had been bad lately, but that was no excuse.  He had stepped out of line.  He had made a terrible mistake.  He realized that his license was a great privilege and he had abused that privilege.  He would accept whatever punishment was due him.  Only, he just wanted the council to know it would never happen again.

By the time he was finished, the council members looked like they were ready to buy him a drink at his own bar.  After hours.

The council let him off with a warning.

At that point I told my lawyer to go back to the office, I’d take it from there.

Whatever you’re selling, ya gotta know the territory.

Mackay’s Moral: Some people are too smart for their own good.  But they’re not smart enough to know they don’t know.

This tidbit was from my book “Pushing The Envelope” and I recommend it to anyone looking to be more successful in any walk of life.

About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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