Everyone has stories about the highest and lowest moments of their professional lives. An entrepreneur faces highs that are incredibly ‘high’ and lows which are incredibly ‘low’ everyday, often taking him or her into emotional territories never experienced before. If you have not yet felt this, trust me, you will feel it soon.
The fact is, you are working very very hard to fulfill your vision by building and selling products which are close to your heart. You can repeat the same pitch 100 times a day and not get tired. Yet, despite all your enthusiasm, energy, attitude and willingness to serve each stakeholder, you get hit from all sides: landlords, customers, vendors, prospects, and team members.
An entrepreneurs challenge is to stay focused on the goal in the midst of all this ‘distraction’. Problems will not stop, they will only escalate. Either you learn how to juggle them or your drown in the constant stream of failures that come you way. The choice is yours and yours only.
If I distill my two engineering degrees and one management degree down to the one key lesson from each degree, it comes down to this basic difference:
- The Engineering degrees taught me how to take a complex problem and move towards its logical conclusion using a series of well defined steps. An engineering problem can be attacked by breaking it into smaller chunks and solving each ‘independently’. If you define the problem well and follow the steps accurately, you are reasonably sure to reach the correct answer.
- The Management degree taught me how to look at a complex problem and fit it into a pre-defined framework. The framework can help identify linkages among the various sub-components of the problem and provide a path towards a few possible solutions. At the end however, you may not have one single answer, rather an array of solutions. The final step is to convert this array of solutions into one or two possible actions, using some level of managerial intuition and judgement.
Given this fundamental difference, it is important to recognize the importance of ‘last mile’ judgement and intuition in a management decision making scenario. If an organizational leader can hone his judgement skills, it would give him a great boost in the ability to achieve successful outcomes from seemingly uncertain scenarios.
It is also important to note that very few people can make judgement decisions well from the get go. For the rest of us, we should put in specific routines in place to hone our judgement skills. For example, one can practice predicting the price of oil or the currency every week using a set of ‘rules’. We can define those rules for ourselves, but just the act of predicting an uncertain outcome based on a set of rules should help sharpen our judgement decision making skills.
I have learned over the years that one can increase their success probability at job interviews by focusing on a few critical elements. One such thing to focus on is what I call your “x-factor”.
Before walking into the interview room, think about what is it about you that is so compelling or differentiated from other candidates. Each one of us has an “x-factor” which sets us apart and makes us unique. For example, lets say you are a very passionate person. You get charged up quite easily and are able to inspire others around you with your passion. Recognizing and then highlighting this trait during your interview can greatly increase your success chances.
I recommend you work hard to anticipate what the interviewer is looking for. Once you have figured that out, do some special/out of the ordinary analysis or think of a few recommendations which you can highlight in your interview. Make sure these recommendations appear ‘unsolicited’, so that the interviewer feels you have done your homework and are proactively thinking of solutions to the company’s problems. For example, if your strong point is your analytical skills, then think of the interviewers business problems and analyze that problem using your analytical toolkit. Present your recommendation in the interview, even if you are not asked for it. This approach is bound to help showcase how proactive you are.
Michael Arrington talked about how Facebook should allow users to “reset” their social network to shed some of the fat that collects over time in your social network circles. This resonates with my “Facebook fatigue” that I talked about earlier. More and more people these days are complaining about the low signal to noise ratio on their Facebook walls, and this is a dangerous path for Facebook to go down.
What most people are not realizing is that this issue has an even larger impact when it comes to our professional network on LinkedIn. Over time, we relax our constraints and tend to approve connection requests on LinkedIn from people who we know very little. These may be people who we exchanged a simple “hello” with and went on to connect with them later on LinkedIn. Before we know it, our network has grown to over 500 people.
It is difficult to imagine how most of us can have a high quality professional relationship with over 500 people. It just doesn’t seem physically possible. LinkedIn does a very good job of trying to prevent you from adding people who you do not know well, but the software algorithm can only go so far in dissuading people from expanding their networks.
I seem to have fallen prey to this as well as my LinkedIn network has grown fast over the past year (mostly due to new connections at ISB). But its high time I tighten up and take control of who I decide to approve. For those of you new to LinkedIn or Facebook, I highly advise you to take it slow and only build your networks slow and steady. Do not rush in, having 500 friends or connections is not an achievement. Do not dilute your network, as very soon, you will drown in the amount of noise it creates for you.
A very important reason one goes to b-school is to expand their network, meet diverse and interesting people, and learn personal and professional best practices from the diverse set of people. Right?
I want to believe the above view is represented by a large percentage of MBA students, but sadly, I am observing the complete opposite. MBA students, some very smart ones, are rarely pro-active in working with *random* group of people, or taking up assignments/projects/competitions with a group of people they have not met before.
Instead, most people just flock to others who they know well and have worked with before. In some ridiculous cases, I have seen students request re-shuffling the entire set of class study groups just so they get to work with the 2-3 students who they are comfortable with.
I wish this was not the case. Folks need to realize that uncertainty, ambiguity, and diversity all go hand in hand. One can gain A LOT from working outside the comfort zone and trying to work with people who are different and I daresay, *hard* to work with.
These two seemingly mundane words wield tremendous power. Think about the following exchange between two MBA’s evaluating a healthcare business plan and a team of entrepreneurs:
- Person 1: This looks like a good team because the individuals have a lot of industry experience. We should score them high on experience.
- Person 2: They have lots of experience, so what?
Think about what just happened. By asking a simple “So what?”, person 2 has just made person 1 think much deeper as to what he/she feels is good about the team’s experience. Is the team’s experience relevant to this particular business idea? If you had to pick just one aspect about the team, would you pick their experience over other factors like motivation, team dynamics, network, etc?
Just these two powerful words can make us question unsubstantiated assumptions, tall claims, and any such construct which can lead us down the wrong path. Asking such “So what” questions is a trait I have recently observed in many good professors at ISB as well as some of the most successful people I have met in my life.
Here is a simple task each of us can execute today which is guaranteed to help us with our own plans:
- List the top 3 activities you are doing today in your professional life (for example: taking a certain course, participating in a competition, working on a certain project)
- For each activity, ask yourself “So what?” and jot down the thoughts that come in your head
I guarantee you, this little exercise will make you think in ways you never thought of before.
Most people associate Google with images like this one here. Cool, colorful, hippety-bop. It is indeed all of this and more.
Google has built a great work environment in all its offices around the world. While all of this is good, the real story lies in the type of people surrounding you at Google. Its a fresh, young (in their thinking), productive, and radical thinking group of people that is not afraid to challenge the status quo. The typical Googler feels there is nothing that cannot be achieved with smart application of engineering, process, and risk-taking. Googlers are a proud bunch, proud to be associated with a company that gives a $hit.
I worked with some of the brightest minds in the world, a rich experience it was, to the core. Every small team inside the company feels like a startup, the energy is electrifying and mood is optimistic about what the future might bring. I only wish the company culture withstands the test of time and the company remains as young and agile as it was during my time at the Googleplex.