In the late ‘70s I was the young Executive Assistant to NBA Commissioner Larry O’Brien who had previously worked for both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and later been the specific target of the Watergate break-in as the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He was a heavyweight.
He caught me one day boisterously celebrating having just convinced the famously irascible owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, Jack Kent Cooke, to vote as O’Brien wanted him to on a particularly thorny issue at an upcoming Board of Governors meeting.I was exuberant.
O’Brien — one of the most adept vote counters in the history of our Republic — became impatient with my carrying on.
“Careful, Bill. Things unravel. Territory you conquer today can be lost tomorrow. Stop patting yourself on the back. Stay on the problem until the votes are cast. And then start worrying about a later reversal. There are no final victories.”
O’Brien’s admonition about “No Final Victories” (the title of his memoir), together with my law professor’s overarching, guiding generality that “Things are true (in the law and in the world generally), except when they’re not,” have formed the foundation for my approach to business and to life.
Success is temporal. Certainty is an illusion. And if you do prevail, shut up about it. Gloating is for amateurs.