Smith Magazine

Career wisdom in just 6 words

February 9, 2012: 9:51 AM ET

You wouldn't think six words could say much, but entries in a recent contest carry bite-sized chunks of insight.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

If someone asked you to sum up in six words what you've learned so far about how to succeed in business, what would you say? When Smith magazine and consulting firm Mercer posed the question last year, they got thousands of entries, which they winnowed down to 400 for a book called Six Words About Work. A sampling of the winners:

  • "Always start with assuming good intentions." — Teri Edman
  • "Don't hire geniuses, hire capable people." — Larry Bradley
  • "Persistence has more value than qualifications." — Mitch Polack
  • "Work like you own the company." — John Thornton
  • "Need the facts? Ask a secretary!" — Jim Berman
  • "Know security guards, cleaners by name." — Wesley Coll
  • "You're not learning if you're comfortable." — Debbie Beets
  • "Do one more thing than requested." — Gary Belsky
  • "Screw-ups will happen. Just own them." — Kara Carthel
  • "Cutting corners only creates more paperwork." — Dyan Titchnell
  • "Walk the hall rather than call." — Juliette Mirsepasy
  • "Add value — otherwise you're a commodity." — Randall Lane
  • "If you don't know, say so." — B. Saville
  • "Get the hardest part done first." — Cathy Smith
  • "Pretend impossibilities are possible. They are." — Sandi Hemmerlein
  • "Fail fast. Learn fast. Improve fast." — Steven Robins
  • "Avoid all paintball team-building games." — Mary Gordon
  • "Go outside the building to scream." — Carol Wilson
  • "Surprise your spouse, not your boss." — Laureatte Loy
  • "Don't laugh while boss is ranting." — Leslie Wolf Branscomb

And speaking of bosses, how about a 42-word crash course in how to be a great one? Consider these descriptions of "the best boss I ever had."

  • "Took responsibilities very seriously, not himself." — Anita Sanders
  • "Two ears, one mouth, engaged wisely." — Bob Myers
  • "Asked for ideas, and used them." — Deborah A. Cunefare
  • "Provided guidance, didn't take the credit." — Peter Ashkenaz
  • "Shouted 'Get out now!' at 6 p.m." — Atsuko Dudash
  • "Promoted truth, justice and, eventually, me." — George Sosa

Maybe you've never worked for a boss who inspired you to echo Dana Shaw's encomium -- "Shame he couldn't have superhero's cape." But here's hoping your underlings never echo six words from contestant Lacy Foland: "Wait. People have good bosses? Unfair."

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