Third in the Series…

Posted by Richard Moran.

On Getting Ahead, Getting a Job and/or Getting Funded

Advice Too Simple Not to Know

Whatever It Takes

It was a coffee break during a strategy planning session and I was standing up looking out the window. The CEO came over to join me and with glazed eyes was taking in the scene. He spotted a roofer and said, “I wish I had a job like that.” While I was hoping that the share holders didn’t hear him, I knew that while we were stuck in process, he was longing for closure.

Closure is a highly undervalued element of the world. One reason why we like sports so much is that the game ends and there is an outcome. A reason we like college so much is that the semester has a clear ending and we know when we will be able to throw that calculus book away. People enjoy project oriented work because there is an end and one can move on to the next thing. And maybe the next project will be even better.

Think about areas where there is very little closure and how frustrated it makes us. How about health care reform? Progress in Iraq? Public school reform? Improving the Sarbanes Oxley legislation? The Jersey diner and Tony Soprano? If there is any closure there it is, at best, in the form of an ambiguous victory or a nebulous defeat.

I think because of the current frustrations about closure, the buzz words out there today are all about implementation and simply, getting things done.

The ability to get things done or to convince people that you will get things done is a bankable proposition. The appreciation that goes along with getting things done captures both closure and progress; it should never be under estimated. Getting things done requires the “whatever it takes” aura.

Whatever it takes means you will:

Stay up all night to meet the deadline.
Be on a first name basis with every shift at Kinko’s.
Induce your team to do things they thought they couldn’t do.
Take a shower in the sinks at Logan or JFK airports and be ready for an 8am meeting.
Continue the night classes to earn the promotion
Understand the expectations and over-deliver
Last minute reschedule of the dinner date and celebrate the new account with a weekend in Napa
An entrepreneur should convince any funding source that you are willing to drag your body across burning coals to make the idea successful, whatever it takes.

A job seeker should convince the hiring manager that life will be better when you join because stuff will get done, whatever it takes.

A project manager will get promoted if the project is completed, on-time, on-budget, whatever it takes.

This blog entry will get completed and posted on time, whatever it takes.

Second in the Series…

Posted by Richard Moran.

On Getting Ahead, Getting a Job and/or Getting Funded

Advice Too Simple Not to Know

Pay Attention People! Listen.

Too often I see smart people ignoring what is right in front of them and it costs them.

It was a meeting with a bunch of “luminary” speakers when I started to wonder why smart people don’t pay attention to what could be literally under the nose. There were lots of microphones and spotlights for a speaker who is a CEO of a pretty big company. He was wearing a lavaliere mike on the pocket of his starched blue shirt and a blue blazer. On the inside pocket of that jacket was a tag or a piece of paper and every time he moved his left arm the tag scraped the mike and a noise like a clucking quail soon hit the speakers. As I sat there I wondered, “Doesn’t he hear that noise? As an experienced speaker, why doesn’t he stop and say, ‘What the hell is that noise?’” Instead he droned on but had lost the audience.

Another guy was giving a pitch to ask for money from the venture world. After more than a few pages of telling the group that the internet is changing the world one of the listeners chimed in helpfully, “We know that, tell us what you have and what you are trying to build…” Instead of skipping ahead, the entrepreneur went back to his too long presentation and continued to tell the group that India or China could be a big market. By now, some of the audience was checking their blackberries. As someone trying to raise millions of dollars from the people who were in the room, why didn’t he stop the PowerPoint and say, “Hey, I can tell I am not getting through to you, let me tell you what this is, how big it can be and why I need money.” Instead, at the end of the hour, everyone was polite but everyone knew there would be no company funded.

Yet another guy showed up for an interview a little early so he hung around in the parking lot in his car. To kill time he decided to handle a few personal hygiene chores. First he flossed his teeth then started yanking out nose hairs and other unwanteds. The problem was that his interviewer and others were twenty feet away behind blackened glass sitting in their offices. Unbeknownst to our poor candidate, he had an audience who was watching his moves and giggling like a scene out of “The Office.” Even though they had no idea who he was. When he showed up for the interview with the people who had been watching him, the snickers and glances were everywhere. He didn’t get the job and probably never knew what happened. Why do people think that what they do in their car is private? Who would hire someone with that kind of judgment?

Everyone can tell similar stories where someone made mistakes that hurt them. The mistakes are not about arbitrage methodologies or sophisticated modeling. Mistakes can often be avoided with two simple pearls of wisdom:

1. Pay attention to what is going on around you and adjust accordingly. Use your judgment.

2. Listen to all the inner voices that tell you what to do. It could be your own voice, your mentor’s voice or that of your Mother.

That’s it. Not complicated. A batch of research has shown that, in general, people know how they perform. Why is this so difficult to understand? In the middle of a presentation, you know how it is going. In the middle of an interview, you know how it is going. Adjust accordingly.

The advice continues as simple as possible. The first piece of wisdom was to learn how to tell a story. The second is to pay attention. Is this sounding a little like your first grade teacher? That’s probably right.

The First in a Series…

Posted by Richard Moran.

On Getting Ahead, Getting a Job and/or Getting Funded

Advice Too Simple Not to Know

Story Time

Can I pick your brain?
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
Can you meet with my son/daughter/niece/nephew/cousin/spouse….about their career?
Will you be my mentor?
How do I get capital to start a company?

Here it is, the first of the pickings from my brain.

Since I have moved from the “boy wonder” corner of the room to that area reserved for those “more seasoned”, I am a slow moving target for those seeking advice. I am happy to give that advice although I am often not sure how it is received. My advice is never in the realm of get that MBA or make sure you get an “A” in quantum physics. Whenever I received that kind of advice I always felt guilty for not taking that extra calculus class, wished I was smarter or said to myself, “Oh well, too late.”

Much advice that is dispensed in person or on-line falls on deaf ears because it is just too hard to implement. No one wants to hear “Go to MIT”, if you are already somewhere else. If you hear, “Start your career at Accenture or IBM”, and you are already at Enterprise Rent a Car, the advice is not useful. I will not go into that part of the advice world. Rather, I will provide easy-to-use, practical advice that anyone can hear and use. Whether or not you will apply it is up to you. Each part in this series will be one bullet, only one. The bullet for this column is:

Tell a Story

This is not a hard concept and is one that we learn as babies but people seem to forget that much of life is about “the story”. Why do we follow celebrity gossip? There is almost always a story. Why do we like a particular wine? The label or the winemaker tells a good story. Why do people get ahead in their careers or get their companies funded? They can tell a good story.

Remember the stories that were read to you or that you are now reading to your own kids. Those children stories have three key parts:

The “Once Upon a Time…” the start, setting the stage
The “One Day…” intervening variable part, something changes
And the “The End.” The resolution part. Closure.
Making the case when you are looking for a job or trying to raise capital or trying to sell the project is not any different. You must tell a story. Your story has the same components as the children’s book.

Instead of talking about a princess or a witch with an apple or a handsome prince, you are talking about your background, your idea, what happened to bring you here and in the end, what you want.

In meeting people and listening to entrepreneur’s pitches all day, I see some common mistakes that can be easily corrected.

Too much time is spent in the “Once upon a time” section. Yes, we know the internet is changing the world and yes, it is a flat world, and yes we know that college usually takes four years. Don’t waste the first twenty pages or twenty minutes telling us what we already know. Many times the presentation or pitch should start on page twenty, not on page one. Too often, the presentation is over before it starts because the “once upon a time” section took too long. If the words “disruptive” or “paradigm” are used in the first twenty pages, see if you are really setting the stage like you may want to.
The story cannot be distilled to a few key messages. “We are building a world class technology company” is not a key message. “I like to work with people” is not a key message. Sometimes the more word-smithing that takes place, the more muddled the messages become. Three key messages should be developed and be crisp and tight.
Stories are about timing. If you know the interview or the presentation lasts for forty five minutes, which is usually the case, don’t mess around for the first thirty minutes and save the good stuff for the end. By then everyone will be on their blackberries. Pace the story so that by the time you are approaching the end, the audience is in a mild state of arousal waiting to hear how you will wrap it up.
Wrap it up and have a strong close before you say “The End” and close the book. Make sure the audience knows what you want. A job? Millions of dollars? Help? A second chance for a better interview or presentation? Too often, stories just end without any conclusion. Forrest Gump often said, “And that’s all I have to say about that.” Don’t say that.
Stories have a beginning, middle and an end. Constructing your own story shouldn’t be so hard, but it is. Without those three elements your story may not have a happy ending. If you get stuck, refer to The Little Engine that Could or A Bug, A Bear and a Boy Build a Garden.

Stay tuned for the second part of the series.