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.