The One Question You Should Ask In An Interview...Isn't Enough

If you spend any time online looking for advice (of any sort - personal or business), you’re bound to come across articles that espouse the “1 question you need to ask” or the “3 signs that you’ll be successful”. The intention behind these articles is clear - if you’re on the path to X, and if you pay attention to these one or two or three things, then you’ll get there.

I get the simplicity of the approach and I appreciate it’s allure, especially if the advice is coming from someone we consider to be successful (or from someone who works for a company we consider to be conventionally successful).

If You Do Know, Then Say So

I’ve talked about situations where leaders and managers struggle to say “I don’t know” because of their fear of seeming incompetent or not being “in the know”. It’s an approach that rarely works and, more often than not, breeds frustration and angst, because it goes against the reality that real leaders are human, open and willing to be vulnerable.

On the flip side, we also see situations where perfectly competent individuals - individuals who know their stuff and know the situation at hand - are unwilling to say what they think. They remain quiet even when they know better, even when their expertise, experience and gut are telling them otherwise.

Why does this happen?

Defining Happiness

“To me, happiness is about an expectation of positive change. Every year before 2016, there was an improvement in my expectations — in the team, the product, or the company. This was the first time in my life when the present year felt worse than the last.“ 

The above quote come from Sahil Lavingia’s Medium article titled “Reflecting on My Failure to Build a Billion-Dollar Company”, which recounts how he built what by any normal standard would be considered a successful business but a failure by traditional Venture Capital standards (and as he says, his own).

Get Used To Criticism

If you’re going to do anything different, you’re going to get criticized.

There’s no shortage of folks willing to offer you advice if you’re thinking about a new venture, a new project or a new position. They’ll range from friends, family as well as business colleagues - well intentioned or otherwise. Some of it you might actively ask for, but a lot of it will be offered to you, at no extra cost.

Be The Guide - Not The Victim

Donald Miller is an author and businessman who helps organizations tell better stories. His message is that, in a business world that’s full of noise and clutter, the only way to cut through is to tell stories and engage your audience - in any type of setting.

One of his key themes is that there are really 4 key roles you can play in any story - hero, villain, guide or victim.

Take Your Power Back

We all like the idea of getting along.

In business relationships specifically, harmony is an essential ingredient in successful, long term relationships. If we have harmony, we have alignment, we have consensus (at least in terms of direction), we have the grounds for collective momentum.

The trick is in making sure that the basis for that harmony is real. Harmony isn’t about happiness, hugs and kisses. It’s often hard to get to, many times requiring debate, disagreement and (periodic) discontent. Achieving real harmony is almost always hard work.

Do The (Next) Right Thing

“There's a concept in Hinduism called "dharma," which means "duty." Your dharma is to always do *the next right thing*, without attachment to the consequences (karma). When you follow your dharma, good karma naturally flows from it. When you don't, it doesn't.“

I’m not a religious person, nor would I call myself overly spiritual, but I do believe in the old saying, “what comes around, goes around”. Which is probably why the above tweet from Asha Rangappa resonated so strongly with me the other day.

Don't Send Me An Email (Sort Of)

I’m old enough to remember a time when we didn’t have email at work.

If I wanted to communicate something, I’d pick up the phone and call that person, or I’d write them a letter, or I’d set up a meeting (by phone) and head over to their office to chat.

Since then, the advent of email has led to more streamlined and more versatile communications. You can not only share a thought or an idea, but you can have entire streams of back and forth, all fully documented for future reference. For example…

Learn The Script - Then Forget It

In any pitch - whether it’s to make a sale, get a job, get a promotion, or fund an initiative - the story you tell is all-important. It has to inform, educate and (many times) entertain and inspire the audience, so that they ultimately say yes, and agree to whatever your “ask” is.

So how you craft that story is absolutely critical. From the key themes, to the overall flow/structure, to the specific messages/story points, to the facts and anecdotes that illustrate those messages, it’s essential to flesh out all of those elements.

Cater To Who Matters - Not To Everyone Else

I’m reading a book called “Coal Black Mornings” by Brett Anderson, the lead singer and founder of the British band, Suede, which had their heyday in the BritPop era of the 1990s through early 2000s.

(Suede is in my Top Five bands of all time, but while popular in Britain, they’ve been largely ignored in the US. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re absolutely worth checking out - start with the first two albums.)

There’s a passage in the book where he talks about his song writing process, and writes:

Engage And Entertain (Or It's Always Better to Pull Than Push)

The advent of recording technology (from the cassette tape to the VCR to the current digital formats) as well as the ability to access audio-visual entertainment on demand has allowed us to do the one thing that marketers hate:

Skip their ads.

For the most part, you don’t have to sit through a 15, 30 or 60 second ad just to get to the content you’re actually there for. You just hit the forward button and presto! No marketing message, no advertiser trying to sell you something.

It’s Personal, Not Personalized

There’s a difference between “personal” and “personalized”. 

In an age where Marketers are working to find ways to make their messages more customized, more tailored, more specific to who we are, there’s still a marked difference between the two. Just because that email is addressed to you, or there’s a special offer made on your birthday, doesn’t actually make it personal. It’s simply programmed to appear that way.  

You Won't Change The World By Cutting Costs

Strategy is an interesting topic.

You and I can be working in similar areas of management. We can have gone through the same set of experiences in our time at our organization. We can even have a similar view of what defines success in our chosen markets. Yet we can have markedly different perspectives as to what approach it will take to get there. And that’s perfectly normal - in fact, it’s almost always a good thing.

When It's Too Soon To Quit...

In my last post, I talked about the thought process we (should) go through when deciding if it’s time to quit what we’re doing.

While there were multiple idea threads that inspired that post, one of them was an article by Mariam Naficy, the Founder and CEO of Minted, an online design marketplace. In that article, Mariam talked about how she raised a small seed round from friends and family and then launched the business, originally intending it to be a lifestyle business. And then:

Everyone Has A Platform (Part 1)

The best thing about technology today is that everyone has a platform.

It doesn’t matter whether our preferred medium is in written, audio or visual form, we have access to all the technology we need to create, publish, broadcast and market our message to anyone, whether they’re in our hometown or all the way across the other side of the globe.