Clay-Howardby Clay Howard

There is a sign in my office that is the first thing I see every morning when I arrive at work.

I say sign because it is really just 12 words printed on an 8.5-by-11 sheet of paper that is folded in half and taped on my office wall. I printed this sign out sometime in 2007 or 2008, and actually moved it across town with me when the Nussbaum Center took up residence in our current location four years later. I am pretty sure it was the first thing I unpacked when I got here.

The sign hangs in a strategically placed spot so that everyone who enters my office can read it, and no, it is not an inspirational hang in there sign, or anything like that. I am not an inspirational sign kind of guy — I’m more of a cynic, actually.

The 12 words are as follows: Being right isn’t nearly as important as knowing when to shut up.

Read that again. Go ahead, it’ll only take a couple seconds.

Makes sense, huh? Almost as good as those other words about treating folk the way you want to be treated. In fact, these kind of fall under that one, if you think about it.

My dad was a quiet guy, and a truly intelligent man. He was also well liked, or at least well respected, by everyone he ever worked with. I think a lot of that was because he was smart enough to heed the 12 words on my sign, but without having to have a sign; the need for a daily reminder is mine alone — well, mine and a few million other folk.

We are now almost a decade deep into a world dominated by social media with its ability to create self-proclaimed experts out of everyone, and these words could not be more relevant. Imagine a world where people sat down to surf Facebook and heeded the words on my sign, and simply moved past a post that did not line up with their thoughts. Imagine a world where there was no need to “unfollow” someone, because, even if you knew that something someone said was the dumbest thing you have ever heard, you just shut up, and kept moving. Social media is not the only place these words work — real world application is even better.

Being right isn’t nearly as important as knowing when to shut up.

I first read those words sometime eight or nine years ago, and they truly affected me. I now read them every day to push myself to heed their wisdom and shut up.  Do I succeed all the time? Ha! Ask my boss or coworkers. But I have gotten better.

Twelve-step programs help people become better versions of themselves. Might I suggest a simple 12-word program?

Clay Howard is the vice president of the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship in Greensboro.

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