I work with a lot of smart, committed, enthusiastic people. That simple fact makes it hard NOT to solicit feedback wherever possible.
(As a side note, they’re also fun, funny and charming people, which means I definitely talk too much in general because I enjoy my conversations with them. But that’s a separate post about how I need to start looking to see if people are wearing earbuds before talking to them…).
In regards to ‘questions’ however, it’s more difficult, because we all sit together, everyone is willing to help most times and they have incredibly valuable thoughts to contribute to any decision. But there’s a point of diminishing return that is challenging to measure, because efficiency requires decisions to be made – and sometimes made solo, quickly.
As things now stand, I solicit a lot of discussion and feedback. Which helps me a great deal, but potentially helps my colleagues less. I’m looking for approaches to help walk that line if anyone has some. For now, I think I’m going to only ask one question of a person a day. Basically, force prioritization on myself.
If I can only have someone’s full attention for one minute, what would I need to have answered?
A little over a year ago I finished up my MBA at UVA, loaded up the few possessions we still had in Charlottesville and drove out to Boulder, CO to join my pregnant wife who had moved a month earlier. I arrived on a Sunday and started work at Gnip two days later.
One year ago last Friday, my daughter was born.
With a new baby, a new job, a new city and a new house, there hasn’t been much time for introspection. There still isn’t, so I’m just going with what I’ve got- what I’ve realized a year out from Darden:
- I’m really glad went back to school. Not everyone needs an MBA; I did. As a forcing function for specific skills, it was right on. After college, a lot of our education is the ‘unschooling’ approach. We learn what we like, what interests us, what our job or situation demands. And that’s great, but it can be just as limiting as formal education. While there are downsides to set curriculum, it can be valuable to have the time and expectation you’ll use that time to learn and pass a test on something like accounting (which I hated) and financial modeling (which I grew to love). Learning those skills led me to realize #2 –
- Being a know-it-all sucks and I’m wrong a lot: This lesson is a continuing one 😉 – but one of the things I re-learned at school was that I’m not the smartest guy in the room, nor do I need to be. Far more valuable than being the smartest is being one who can: ask the right questions, admit being wrong, align different personalities, arrive at a clear decision and accept responsibility for the outcome. I don’t always get this right; it takes practice and it takes a culture that lets you practice. I’m lucky to be in a place that forgives occasional lapses.
- No decision exists in a vacuum – and you never know all the inputs: One of the powerful things about school was a constant reiteration of the need to take a step back and consider a problem from various angles, to dive in and challenge assumptions, incorporate inputs from others, to make a decision and honestly asses that decision based on results, and then modify as necessary. For many people (me!) that model of thinking takes practice – practice that was evident in finance/stat courses, in ethics and leadership courses and in strategy and development courses. No course existed in a vacuum, because no decision does. And you never know all the inputs.
- Engagement is good: I remember the first meeting at Gnip I was in – one week after I left school (and my first day at work). I made a point and immediately Rob Johnson asked “Why? Why do you think that? What data points prove it?” That type of engagement and challenge is powerful but it can be shocking to a system unused to it. School (in the case method) prepped me for defending my view and correcting it where wrong. But it requires practice to keep moving forward. And I can feel it when I’ve been solo on the road for a week and return to a meeting. After a week solo, I’m not used to input. But I’m always better off for receiving it.
- Lastly, practice is an essential part of progress. Models always need refining. There are always flaws or poor assumptions; external factors are constantly changing; more valuable inputs are always available; more experience is always valuable. Whether you’re talking about an ethical framework you’ve developed and exercised, an actual financial model you’re testing, a marketing plan you’re building or a strategy you’re developing… challenging each model is practice that refines it and moves it forward.
What I’ve actually realized is that, like my daughter, I’m a one year old.
I’ve got some skills, I’ve learned to walk, but it’s messy sometimes. Luckily I have some good people holding my hand and I’m running forward as fast as I can, building step by step on what I previously learned. But there’s a lot of road ahead.