Opportunity Knocking… and I mean you (part 2)

I don’t regret too much in my life… not even my dissertation, which is about regret.

Yesterday I wrote about a missed opportunity, how I avoided many chances to say hello to the late C. K. Prahalad, author of the influential book “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” as well as many other important business books.

There was another such example, and this is one I acted upon. But I wish I could have done more.

During one of my very first presentations as a doctoral student, to my assembled peers and our intimidatingly brilliant professors, I cited the work of legendary psychologist Robert Zajonc, whose contributions include “the mere exposure effect” (https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1968-12019-001) as well as other advances in social psychology. He was a giant in his field.

And I pronounced his name as “Zay-junk.”

You know, just like it’s spelled.

In front of everybody.

To my friends who speak Polish, please stop laughing at me. Okay. Just laugh for a few minutes longer.

Yeah, that’s what everyone else in the room did. Seems like I was the only person in the room who didn’t know how to pronounce his name.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Finally, someone corrected me.

Zajonc… like “science.”

What a lovely coincidence.

I thought they were kidding me.

Well, I made it through that day (and the whole PhD program) somehow and once I learned that Dr. Science actually taught at the U of M, I felt compelled to reach out and share my story with him.

Why did I reach out to him, whose very name caused me such humiliation, but not to Dr. Prahalad, just sitting there in his office all those times?

I wish I knew.

So I had coffee with Professor Robert Zajonc. He thought my story was funny and was used to his name being mispronounced. Maybe he was trying to make me feel better. I did feel better.

But how about this:

Zajonc was a war hero. He was orphaned by a Nazi attack in Warsaw. He was eventually captured and sent to a labor camp. He escaped and joined the French Resistance. He became a translator for the American forces.

C’mon Bob, why didn’t you tell me any of this?

You don’t know what you don’t know.


If you are trying to get to know someone, ask questions. Let THEM talk. Follow up on what they say. Use words like “how” and “why.” Learn things.

And if people are laughing at you, laugh along with them. I mean, maybe it IS funny. Even if not, you can rise above.

Even if… maybe even especially if… it pushes you outside of your comfort zone… do it. It’s still safe. And you never know how you and others might benefit.

What do you think?

See you tomorrow.