Don’t Ask to Ask, Just Ask

Person: “Can I ask you something?”
Me: “Yes”
Person: “Can we chat on the phone?”
Me: “Email me what you want to ask”
Person: “It’s too hard to explain in an email, can we talk?”
Me: “No, sorry. I don’t take open-ended calls”
Person: “OK, it’s this” (easily explained in two sentence email)

This happens all the time. All could have been done in a single email. Instead four vague asks just to get to one.

When Complex Business Problems Are Simple

I want faster growth, so many new systems and processes internally, so many new product advancements externally, new marketing channels, new sales efforts, and on and on.  I have so many new ideas, plus so many current things moving in all directions it can get overwhelming trying to map out and make sense of it all in my head or on paper, let alone trying to tackle them.  The more the business grows, the more complex the problems seem.

Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself that business problems are all really simple at bottom.

When it comes to product development, what problem does the product solve?  Solve it better.

When it comes to marketing, get more leads.

When it comes to sales, close more leads.

That’s it.  Solve customer problems better, get more leads, close more leads.  Everything else is in service to those and matters in proportion to how well it serves them.

Things More Valuable Than My College Degree

A handful of good books
A network of intelligent, contentious friends
A job (just about any job)
Daily blogging for 30 days
Five good podcasts
Daily exercise
Quora
Amazon book reviews (writing or reading them)
Signing up for the email workflows for every company you like
A few weeks in a different country
Cold call sales
Building something from scratch
Running a marathon
A FEE seminar
Brainpickings.com
Breakingsmart.com
Creating a website
Making $500 on eBay
Interviewing people for a podcast
Season one of Silicon Valley
Giving three talks in front of a crowd
The Wire
Starting a business and failing
Starting a business and succeeding
Playing in a band and getting paid gigs
A cross-country road-trip
Writing a book
Being debt-free
Having some cash on hand and a low cost of living
Being interested and interesting
A good salami sandwich

No One Will Pay You for Being Extraordinary

I’ve met lots of extraordinary people. People who are lightyears ahead of their peers in smarts and skill. They are often aware of their extraordinariness and assume it means they are amazing employees deserving of better than average pay. 

It doesn’t.

You’ll get paid based on how well you solve specific problems other people have, not how amazing you are on the whole.

Remember what Alec Baldwin said about great fathers in his famous Glengarry Glen Ross speech?

Don’t Get into the Particulars

When you’re making the case and someone raises an objection based on particulars, don’t respond with particulars. Come back to the abstract, universal principles.

If your audience can’t connect the abstract to the particular case that matters to them, they’ll never gain from your message anyway. It’s your job to lead them to water, not submerge their head.

Making a Spreadsheet is Better than Using One

I get a high building a new spreadsheet and perfecting the formulas. I get the system perfected so I can track and update and project and it’s beautiful. 

I’m convinced it will be my new daily way to track whatever it is. After a few days I almost never use it. 

I used to feel kind of bad about this. Today, another CEO told me he does the same thing. He said he builds new spreadsheets knowing he probably won’t use them once complete. That’s not why he builds them. The process of breaking down the margins and the ratios and ways variables affect each other clarifies the numbers in his head and helps him see things and understand them far better. The act of building the spreadsheet is what transforms his mind and lodges a new model there.

This relieved a bit of a mental burden and helped me understand myself better. I now feel no guilt about hours spent perfecting a spreadsheet I’ll never again use. The building process is the payoff.

“Can You Imagine if I Was in School Right Now?”

My son just spent a few hours trying to get a sandwich business off the ground.  He was initially depressed because he only had one order, but he decided to give away free samples in exchange for email addresses of people who want to be notified next time he delivers.

He started with a prepared script.  He was pretty nervous about approaching anyone at first.  But after he pushed through and finally got his first sign-up, everything changed.  Soon he was surrounded by people and began to ad-lib and even make self-deprecating comments about how people expect a kid’s sandwich to be white-bread and bologna.

On the way home he looked over the 25+ emails he collected and told me he’d never been so pumped.  He relived the interactions and talked about ideas for the next sale and new menu items and marketing.

Then he stopped mid-sentence.

“Can you imagine if I was sitting in a classroom right now instead of trying to run a business?  How are you supposed to learn about business without doing it?  I feel bad for those kids.  Even if they do well in school, they’ll be starting from scratch when it comes to business.”

I just nodded and the conversation moved on.  It made me sad, but also hopeful.  Sad that so many are languishing in classrooms in a social/educational system designed to shut kids up and keep them out of the real world.  Hopeful, because every day more people realize it and opt out.  Kindergarten through college, more people are jumping off the education conveyor belt and creating their own life and career.

By the way, this experience was no picnic (pun very much intended), and my son is not great at math and figuring out his costs, margins, etc.  The whole thing was a little annoying at times, he needed my help more than I would’ve liked, and he did a lot of things wrong.  But that’s just it; the bar is really low.  He came up with an idea.  He executed it.  He experienced the results in the real world.  What he gained from one good sales interaction after initial rejection is more valuable confidence and social awareness than whatever he’d get from a week being force-fed algebra or history texts.

To Take Credit or Not?

“It is amazing what you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Not even gonna attribute this one (see what I did there?)

Just creating value without worrying about credit is a powerful secret weapon when it comes to effectiveness and building social capital.  A reputation as a generous doer who cares more about project completion than approbation will propel you to great heights.

But don’t you need a brand?  In the digital age, if people can’t find anything about what you do and create, won’t you miss out on opportunities?  Don’t you need to openly share your work and build publicly visible projects and a digital footprint demonstrating your interests and value?

Yes.  Absolutely.  Don’t hide.  Be open.  Review books on Amazon, answer questions on Quora, podcast, blog, engage your interests frequently and openly on the best platforms.  Be findable, knowable, and signal who you are and what you can do for others.

These principles don’t need to be in conflict.  If you publicly show your work, you can do so in a way that doesn’t greedily grub for credit.  You can be generous (not phony or falsely humble) in crediting others.  You can share honestly, not whitewash or over-hype your brand. (Without engaging in failure porn or oversharing to be “authentic”).

I’ve seen people who are good at doing without taking credit. They are tremendously valued in their circle of personal contact, but nowhere else.  They’re missing out on some opportunities.  They are appreciated only by those who know them.

I’ve seen people who are good at publicly sharing their work and building a brand, but who are so quick to take credit for everything both personally and digitally that real life people distrust them.  They are appreciated only by those who don’t know them.

The best is to combine both.

A digital footprint that pisses off your flesh-and-blood acquaintances with exaggeration, posturing, or credit-seeking will kill you long term.  All your opportunities and relationships will remain surface level.  No one wants to feel like every lunch conversation they have with you or every favor you do for them will end up on their blog, woven into some grandiose narrative that’s not exactly accurate.

If you can find ways to share honestly and humbly about what you’re interested in and working on that’s externally visible, while keeping the more internal personal stuff you do private, and looking for unheralded ways to help others, you’ll do best.

My colleague Chuck Grimmett is great at this.  You can find tons of examples of Chuck’s amazing and diverse interests and projects, professional and otherwise.  But I work with Chuck personally every day and I can tell you, what you see on his website is just a tiny sliver of all the value he creates.  The casual observer could easily find Chuck’s areas of interest and expertise, but his personal friends could tell you ten times as many ways Chuck is valuable and awesome.

That’s what you want.

You don’t want every little tiny thing you do for people to immediately be broadcast so that people who know you feel like every bit of value you create is publicly shared.  You want people who know you to say, “Yeah, her online presence is great, but her real-life work is even better.”  You want the show onstage be awesome, but the person backstage to be better.

Do so much that you couldn’t possibly document or take credit for all of it.  Be involved in building so many things and sharing so many ideas that there will be many instances where others get credit for things you’ve done.  Don’t try to correct the record.  Be so prolific no one can catalog it all, not even you.

Don’t hide.  Share.  But share out of interest and openness, not desperation for credit.  And always create a lot of value no one will ever know about except those directly involved.  The tip of the iceberg is pretty impressive above water, but what’s below the surface is even more immense and powerful.

(Ghostwriting and uncredited editing and creative projects for others are good ways to practice)