Severely Annoying

This post is also the subject of a “leadership Minute” video.  When I became a director at Sun Microsystems,  I got to go to “Director School” to teach me to be an executive.   There were multiple teachers but unfortunately I have forgotten all of their names.   The concept that I remember most vividly is that of the SAPWAGI (săp-WĂG-ee).

I have asked scores of other people if they know what a SAPWAGI is, and the reaction is always perplexed bemusement.   SAPWAGI stands for “Severely Annoying Person With A Good Idea”.   The acronym and concept works in my mind because it’s funny and therefore memorable, and embedded in its seven words is the lesson itself. I’ve remembered it some thirteen years later and try to live by its lesson.

The lesson is not too dissimilar from the “Insane Dude Problem“.   The point is that there are many people for whom it takes effort, sometimes extraordinary effort, to understand.   The difference is that a SAPWAGI is simply annoying, whereas the “insane dude” might be subversive. The approach for a SAPWAGI is generally patience and perseverance; it’s totally under your control.

I have worked with a number of SAGWAGIs in my career, far more than “insane dudes”.   There are multiple reasons they may be annoying; for me, the worst is condescension.   Maybe the SAPWAGI is smarter, more seasoned, more capable, more accomplished.   You’ll have to assume they might be, and let them be themselves, in order to engage them. Ask them to tell you more, and don’t be afraid to drill in. They might be annoying because they are hiding their fear that they really don’t know more than you.

As a leader, you are probably more capable of bringing people together, getting them to change things, do things better, and work together.   The SAPWAGI, generally,  does not have that capability. You can keep that in mind as you take the high road and look for the benefit.

What the teacher at Sun taught us somewhere near the year 2000, was that we would reap enormous rewards by bucking up and engaging the SAPWAGI.  Since Sun, at the time, had a Darwinistic organization full of a lots of really smart people, I think someone figured out that we had to engage the SAPWAGI or go home.  It didn’t work out perfectly for them in the end, but that wasn’t because we weren’t able to work together and harness some incredible talent.

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