BBC Capital

Quora Column

Unfair advantage at the office

Some people just have unfair advantages (Thinkstock)

Some people just have unfair advantages (Thinkstock)

This is a column for the disgruntled. It’s easy to get disheartened as we watch colleagues sail through a three-hour presentation on no sleep — after running a marathon over the weekend and coaching their child’s pre-school dance class before work.

What’s their secret?

Not wishing to sound bitter BBC Capital feels there may be a pattern here — a combination of advantages giving some people the competitive edge. We went to question-and answer-site Quora to find out what its users believed to be the biggest innate skill someone could have that provides an unfair advantage at work.

Sleepless in…

One of the most popular answers, receiving a staggering 2,000-plus votes, came from Ivan Mazour, founder of Ometria, who simply wrote: “Not needing a lot of sleep.”

This is a genuine and unfair advantage over others, he said, “since it is almost entirely genetic and not based around lifestyle or nutrition.”

He added: “Some people — Margaret Thatcher, Napoleon — were able to function very effectively on just four hours of sleep, leaving them 20 hours in the day to be productive. Others need eight hours just to feel normal and that is four hours that they fall behind every single day, with no way of changing that.”

What are you smiling about?

Sondra Webber, who works in marketing, wrote “optimism” as her pick for the biggest unfair advantage. She said studies show “optimistic people are more successful, and happier, because they believe in themselves and more or less make it happen.”

Maybe it’s not the caffeine

A baffled and frustrated Andy Warwick, who edits online learning materials for the Sochi Olympic Games, picked “energy.”

He wrote: “Some people have higher natural levels of energy than others, and it's no coincidence that such people are often high achievers. Those of us who are more laid-back or innately lethargic tend to progress more slowly.”

He describes a friend who “zips around” as though he has an intravenous energy drink drip “permanently pumping him full of caffeine”. The colleague checks off tasks and attends meetings “throughout which he is always alert and contributing… without a moment’s rest. He often skips lunch, too. Myself, I get exhausted just watching.”

He wrote despairingly: “I'm sure you all know people like this, those annoying ones who need little sleep and have seemingly boundless physical and mental energy. It's your co-worker who studies for [an advanced degree], plays in weekend sports leagues, learns a language, reads a book a week and still has time when they get home to cook, help the kids with the homework and work on the car. I hate these people.”

He wrote: “They have the endurance to outlast everyone else and the energy and focus to be more productive, thus they tend to advance more quickly through the ranks.”

Just like it happened yesterday

Software engineer, Tushar Mahule, picked “memory” as the most significant unfair advantage. He wrote that a great memory can contribute to “professional excellence”. A lot of that “comes from experience, which eventually boils down to remembering your mistakes and learning from them.”

A good memory benefits your people skills significantly, he wrote, since this enables you to recall tiny details about other people's lives. “Bring up those topics, inquire about them and you connect instantly!” He also added self-belief to the mix: “Being able to recall your achievements, big or small, in ‘full H-D’ can do wonders to one's confidence at critical junctures.”

And he also added efficiency: “Just imagine being able to keep a track of all the things that you want to do without recording them externally likes on a paper.”  He wrote: “Eventually, having a great memory can potentially lead to a very satisfying and happy life.”

Born lucky?

On a more serious note, and well worth considering after feasting on too much food over the festive period, author, Aman Anand pointed out that a lot of answers will relate directly to “first world advantages.”

He wrote: “The answer is simple — access to an ample supply of food. In 2010, there were 925m people who were hungry and malnourished.” He added: “Why is this unfair? Because it is well within the capabilities of global capitalism to bring this figure down to zero.”

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