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The e on my wrist

26 Jan

I get a tattoo before every presentation.  It’s a self-scribbled e on the back of my hand.  I ink myself when I first start generating ideas and only wash it off after I deliver the presentation. It’s temporary, but the imprint sears into my mind what’s most important.  It stands for two things that I must remember throughout the presentation process:

  • Everyone else—The only thing that matters during my presentations is my audience.  Is everyone else in the room getting what they need out of my talk?  Am I assuming knowledge my audience doesn’t yet have?  How do I simplify my message?  The e is a reminder that it’s everyone else that matters, not the person standing in the front of the room.
  • Ego—I want so badly to be a star presenter.  I want to be a comedian, a preacher, a TED talker who makes his audience gasp with insight.  No wonder we’re nervous when we put so much pressure on ourselves.  The e reminds me to leave my ego out of the presentation.  I don’t have to be a stand-up comedian.  Or change the world in my twenty minute talk (although that’s something to aspire to!).  I just need to help my audience, because what they’ll remember is what they got out of the presentation, not me.


Write an e on your hand when you start planning your presentations and don’t wash if off until the presentation is over.  Your thinking will be clearer.  You won’t be as nervous.  And you’ll remember what matters: not your ego, but everyone else.


I Never Won The Fifth Grade Science Fair

24 Jan

But I run experiments now.

When I think about my first year in marketing, I remember the headaches.  The pressure that built in my temples as I obsessed over tough decisions.  Which product feature should I tell our sales reps to highlight with customers?  Is this a headline that will get customers to look at my marketing materials?

I was a perfectionist trying to make just the right decision.  But without enough information to do so. 

I was new.  I didn’t know my customers well enough—didn’t have the knowledge I needed to guarantee a confident, correct decision. 

I’d obsess, hesitantly make a choice, doubt it afterwards, and then wait for the results.  Flipping a coin might have led to more success, and definitely would have saved me stress. 

Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup changed my perspective on decision making.  It’s one of the holy bibles of startup culture, but it’s applicable to everything we do.  There are lots of lessons in the book, but the most important one (for me) is this one:

  • Do not stress over decisions in which you have incomplete information.  Your goal is not to make the right decision (or build the right product) under possibly false assumptions.  Your goal is to learn before you act by testing your assumptions.  Worry about learning and the right decision will follow.

One way to learn is through devising an experiment.  Which isn’t that hard to do—I sure as hell never won the fifth grade science fair.  An example from my work:

Instead of obsessing over which chapters and pages in my textbooks our sales reps should show to customers, I’ve created an experiment where I intersperse “highlights” picked by our authors with random passages from the book.  I ask a group of customers to rank these passages and explain their evaluations.  If the rankings are consistent (if customers pick the same highlights and have similar reasons for doing so), I can confidently present tested passages to our sales reps.

Fewer headaches.  Better, more confident decisions.  The Lean Startup is worth the read.

The Lean Startup

What’s Intimidating About The Greats

17 Jan

What’s intimidating about the greats, the business and thought leaders of our society, is that we pick up their story at the end.  We’re given chronicles of their accomplishments: their meteoric rise to the head of their companies, their brilliant inventions, the millions of lives their creations have impacted.  How can we ever rival what they have done?

What if we picked up their story at the beginning?  Or in the middle?  When these great people faced enormous hurdles.  When they were filled with self-doubt.  When their success was far from guaranteed.

What if, instead of comparing ourselves to the end result, we placed ourselves side by side to the greats when they were just like us?  Working, struggling, striving towards a goal not yet seen on the horizon.

When you think about your career or a goal you’ve set for yourself, shift the point of comparison.  If you want to be great, don’t set yourself side by side to someone who has already achieved greatness.  Instead, imagine that person when they were at a similar point in their career.  When calluses were all they had to show for their toil.  When they had to find solutions to the challenges they faced.

When you do that, you’ll find that these great figures no longer are daunting and untouchable, but very reachable.  You’ll focus not on their enormous success, but the process they took to get there.  You’ll be motivated to find solutions, because they once had too as well—and did so.

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