I just finished Bo Peabody’s book, Lucky or Smart?: Secrets to an Entrepreneurial Life, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s sprinkled with insights — as well as passages that made me laugh out loud. I highly recommend it.

It’s not your typical business book — it’s sort of like Strunk and White’s Elements of Style for entrepreneurs. The book is short (62 pages, I finished it in half an hour) but full of pithy points, such as “Great is the enemy of good,” “start-ups attract sociopaths,” and “don’t believe your own press. In fact, don’t read.”

Anyone who works in high tech or is working at a start-up will enjoy it, but for this audience, the best part is having Bo tell how he got into Williams.

Midway into Chapter 7 (Learn to Love the Word “No”), Bo notes, “So entrepreneurs must learn to love the word ‘no.’ It’s a perverse but necessary tool for survival.”

The first time I realized I loved the word “no” was when I applied to college. I was determined to attend Williams College, one of the world’s most selective institutions of higher learning. One of every five people who apply to Williams gets in, which is one of every hundred who seriously think about applying and one of every thousand who ask their high school guidance counselor if they should apply. I didn’t have a prayer of getting accepted. I was, after all, a B-student.

And sure enough, I got the thin envelope: the one with no information about when school starts, or what dorm you’re in, or who your roommate will be. Instead, it just contains that nicely worded letter, the one that when you cut through all the flowery language simply says “no.”

I needed a plan. The customer had said “no,” and the sales process was just beginning. Figuring that the admissions committee of this elite school had probably seen and heard just about everything, I decided to take a bold, direct, and unorthodox approach. I got the telephone number of the assistant director of admissions, a man named Cornelius (Corny) Raiford. I called Corny up and told him:

‘Hi, my name is Bo Peabody, and I reject your rejection.’
There was a long silence. ‘Excuse me?’ he said.
‘I want to go to Williams College,’ I continued. ‘And with all due respect, I think the admissions committee has made a mistake. And I’d like to work with you to correct it. I am formally rejecting your rejection. I’m coming to Williams. Not next year perhaps, but at some point. I’m in no rush. I have all the time in the world, and I plan to send an applications in to Williams every year until I’m accepted.’

There was another long silence. At this point, I figure Corny is either going to play ball with me or transfer my call to the police. Corny cleared his throat, and said, “I appreciate your desire to attend Williams. I’m not sure I’ve ever received a call like this, so let’s see what we can do.’ For the next few months, I worked with Corny to build a yearlong program during which I’d remedy several of the deficiencies (read: B’s) he saw in my application. That next year, I re-applied to Williams, and was granted early admission to the class of 1994.

As I said, not your typical book on how to be successful in business…

Print  •  Email