First open mic comedy night. Yes. My first time taking the open mic at a comedy night. I was sooooooooooooo scared and nervous out of my mind. I decided to share those (funny, to me) stories of how I take fun of those challenging moments as a woman, and an Asian person. I can control my reactions. I can't control what other people say or do. Here it is:
I randomly applied to be one of three startup founders to take up the three open mic slots for that night. I didn't think I'd get it --- but then, Sunday, I found out I did. And the open mic night was that coming Thursday, August 10. ... I think it went okay for a first-timer. :)
I have to remember to ask, always, ... so, "am I the quarterback on this one", too? I definitely feel like the abused if I'm ALWAYS the default quarterback.
Am I the quarterback?
The concept of the "quarterback" was introduced to me when I was in consulting. Clients were paying anywhere from $125 to $525/hour for my time (to my employers, I got like quarters), and they have (or should have) expectations. Client expectations like: 1) "this consultant is always going to add value if they are billing me", and 2) "if I ask this consultant to do something, I can trust that they will NOT drop the ball".
#1 means, a person is ALWAYS adding value. Taking notes for the entire group. Thinking about the edge cases. Thinking about timing. Thinking about execution. SHARING and voicing those observations with others. COMMUNICATING. Coordinating. COLLABORATING. SOMETHING!!!!!!!
#2 means, you're the quarterback. NOT ONLY for the items on your OWN to do list, but for the ENTIRE team, especially your client(s). EVERYONE. You're the one that is CAT-HERDING, following-up, taking notes, scheduling the meetings, checking off action items, making sure the ball does NOT get dropped.
If you're good at consulting (see #1 and #2), that means, you can be good at a LOT of things.
What I find is that the REST of the world (98%) doesn't know or think about:
1) Team-focused group benefit, "we" over "me", "others first" orientation
2) Adding value each and every minute they are awake (or getting paid)
3) Best ways to communicate and keep everyone in sync
4) Best ways to make sure that the ball is moving forward for everyone.
5) Asking the question, "are we all on the same page?"
THESE ARE THE BASICS. What I find when I mentor students in university, is that they have NONE of these basics. They have NO IDEA about how to actually work effectively. You can tell in the first 15 minutes if someone's going to make it or not. Give them feedback and set expectations. It takes 2 meetings to have a point to point pattern, 3 if you really want to be sure. Perhaps, universities should start teaching MORE PRACTICAL LIFE and WORK BASIC ADULT-ING SKILLS!
As an employer or hiring manager, unless you have the patience of a saint (I don't), make sure you have an "onboarding" plan on how to teach and train a new college grad how to work effectively. If I give you a task, ask clarifying questions. Check in with me with status. Don't make me manage you (or we'll BOTH be unhappy). And no one wants to micro-manage, and no one wants to be micro-managed. And shit, if anyone is spending all of their time managing and micro-managing, the company you work for has DEFINITELY got some major issues. If that's your answer, it's NOT A FIT. I think that's why hiring someone that actually does have internship or 1-2 years or work experience makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE in work-productivity and efficiency, ESPECIALLY FOR A STARTUP.
And by default, always asking or implicitly expecting the SAME PERSON to always be the quarterback for EVERYONE in the room, IS NOT COOL. That's PURE LAZINESS.
EVERYONE should know how to quarterback a task, a project, a workstream, a plan, a company. If you don't, I'd highly recommend learning this skill - it will increase your effectiveness infinitely.
This is the aftermath of my 1 hour session with Heather Redman of FlyingFish VC. She's an investor in GiftStarter (my startup I've been quarterbacking since 2014). Usually we meet over coffee or drinks, and I give her my update. She gives me feedback, helps answer questions, and connects me to helpful people. This week, we met and got our nails done. My nails are bright purple (as inspiration to myself to be like a purple unicorn!)!
After three years of wooing, and then continuing to woo our investors (GiftStarter), I've learned that really, when it comes to all meetings, it's completely always about the relationship. Not just, do I like this person, do they like me back? Honestly, do we like each other as people? Do we respect each other?
All I can say, is that I LOVE the investors that invested in me/GiftStarter - investment of dollars, time, and resources. Some really really really (emphasis on really really REALLY really) awesome people. I am so appreciative of the opportunity, the opportunity to go to battle with a very tough set of cards, and the opportunity to have learned all that I have gotten to learn (and continue to learn). To all founders out there, investors are people, too (not just dollars).
This past week was interesting. Last year, my husband and I, after years of playing "secret investor" by ourselves practicing which ones should or shouldn't or rather would or wouldn't raise the funding that they "needed", we finally started really investing real dollars. Small checks. Putting the walk to all our talk to see if we really had some useful insights into investing in startups. We think we do after being in the trenches of GiftStarter (my intra-preneur experiences plus my husband has also led a series of other small retail businesses), so we shall see.
Anyways, one of the founders we invested in needed some help with their pitch, and I helped as best I could (shaking everything I knew about fundraising and good pitch presentations). They needed help with their pitch deck, so I rolled up my sleeves Sunday night and burned the midnight oil "beautifying" the pitch deck in PowerPoint. The founders needed help with their financials, so I created a customized financial plan template that would help them navigate their projections. Then it looked like there would be 3-4 investors in the same room during one of their pitches, ... and given the situation, I figured I could fly in/out the same day to be another pair of eyes/ears in the room - so I agreed to fly to SFO the next day. Anything that I could possibly do to give them a chance, a leg up at success.
When I think about it, having that "lift" available from someone who's well-rounded, another entrepreneur/founder/CEO person who's been through it as guidance for your company, whether it be an advisor, mentor or investor is REALLY HUGE. Most advisors, mentors, investors ---> they try to help sometimes, they will write checks or spend an hour or few here and there.... but most of the time, they really don't have the 1) founder/entrepreneur experience, nor the 2) founder/entrepreneur "brain" on doing continuous critical thinking to actually provide any meaningful value. I guess, we figured, that's the real value we (myself, and my husband) can provide - the real founder/entrepreneur experience to help another founder/entrepreneur save time and energy in this journey.
No assholes allowed.
It's taken me this long to actually get to sitting down and writing down the definition of an asshole. Assholes exist. I, like many people, figured I'd be able to recognize one when I saw one by trusting my gut. It's an intellectually lazy thing to do, to assume. And I have been regrettably intellectually lazy about this. Because, assholes sneak pass my crappy filter and when I catch them, the stench is real. Then, I break off all contact and fully disassociate with that person. It's a crappy experience and process.
Now that I'm in my late 30s, I thought, let's sit down and really think about this. There's got to be a better way. It's even applicable to the world of entrepreneurship and startups. When I applied to accelerators, they told me that assholes were not allowed. When I talk to the professional investors and super angel investors, they tell me that assholes are not allowed.
So I went back and documented all the different ways to tell if someone is an asshole. I also interviewed investors, people, and other thought leaders. I vetted the thinking with some more people. And, by the way, Google defines an asshole as: "an irritating or contemptible person". If any one or more of the 8 below identifiers go off, you're most likely dealing with an asshole.
Here are the 8 asshole identifiers:
If you run into a person or you identify with one or more of the above identifiers, you're probably dealing with an asshole. Awareness is the first part, everything after that is your opportunity to make an intentional choice. Mine will be, walking as far away as possible and never looking back.
P.S. Many thanks to my friend Minda for her contributions of intellectual ping-pong and critical thinking spent talking about this topic. It's with her collaborative brain that I was able to get this article done.
Row, row, row your boat
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream
[Full lyrics here]
(I am late to publish my #postaweek2017 for last week.)
In general, when it comes to life, the best way to live, is to not expend more energy than needed to accomplish a goal. Rowing a boat against the current, or upstream is WAY HARDER, than just sitting in the boat and letting the river take you.
This "Row, row, row your boat" thinking can be applied to:
Lately. I have been applying the "Row, row, row your boat" principles to the topics that are coming up a lot lately in the ecosystems I am part of. The topics of "Women in ___" (be it in the workplace, in tech, in startups, in leadership, in the C-Suite, etc...", and "Diversity" (be in race, gender, etc...). My current belief is that we're missing a purposeful coordinated focus on identifying and influencing MIT in what'll really move the needle in a meaningful way. That's why the whole topic of gender, of women in ___, of social equity and many similar topics have been so slow to change.
Motherhood is hard. There's so many changes that I've gone through to list, and while not everyone has the same experiences, here are mine (not in any particular order of importance).
Motherhood is hard:
Often, I'll share and say something like, "wow, motherhood is hard". You learn a lot about who people are with the responses. Now having been in this for over a year, I've noticed a most definite pattern. I will always get one of two responses to that question. They go something like this:
Supportive fellow human being:
A) Yes. My gosh I can (or cannot) imagine. With the follow up of, let's go grab some coffee or I'd love to share more with you on this journey. I want to show you that you are not alone and I am here to feel shoulder-to-shoulder in life with you. I want you to know that it'll be okay.
Judging oppressive human being:
B) Of course it is. And, isn't motherhood the most rewarding thing you've ever done? Isn't it completely and totally worth it? There's only one right answer here and you better say it. Motherhood is amazing and that's the only thing any mother should ever say. Ever. Because it is completely worth it.
We get to be the guardian of a brand new fresh pure amazing human life, to guide him (or her) to grow up to be a kind, generous, strong, empathetic, respectful and respected adult. It is hard work. Both ideas can exist.
Quality. It's about the thoughtful thinking that went out before anyone did any execution. It's not just about sexy branding, pretty pictures or cool technology.
There may be something off about my approach. I'm open to that feedback. Former bosses have told me that I am very critical and hard to please, and that I am too demanding of people. While I've worked very hard to be more flexible, and accommodating of people over the years...
However, I still believe to get the real essence of understanding the quality of work being completed - there has to be some level of unprompted test-driving that needs to be done to assess the quality of the work being produced. My current process: 1) Generally, I enjoy discussing and sharing to create the desired outcome/goal of what we are about to do (pick a random side project, small short term goal, whatever). We agree on something. Then 2) on top of any action items I take away, I always stress that I am available to do whatever else is needed to help, support, work, give feedback. Literally. Whatever it takes to reach that goal. I will do.
Very few people take me up on that offer. Very few.
It's a weird "weed-out" move that showcases the ones that will thrive and succeed (in whatever they decide to pursue), and those that will not.
Those that thrive:
1) Reach out - proactively with status updates, quick check-ins to triangulate and see if we're still aligned with what the outcome/goal/vision was. They ask to meet up and trade notes on progress. They ask for me to do some of the work. They ask for feedback.
2) Build a top-down plan on how they are going to accomplish the goal. Sort of a process map or framework.
3) Get to it. Literally, they start brainstorming ideas filling in the steps needed to accomplish the goal. It starts to work, or it doesn't. What's important is that we know one way or the other, with real data.
Most people don't do anything at all. Nothing. I never hear from them. Silence. Weird, to me.
Others, they just start doing without any sort of planning. No strategy at all. Maybe they'll ping me to get me to do some part of what I had previously agreed to do. ... And then, they do. We might sync up randomly, only to find, they have been just mindlessly executing towards the end goal, not thinking at all about the process to get to that end goal. Also, weird, to me.
No matter what project, goal, program, initiative, job --- take the time to look under the hood and figure out if there is a high level plan, strategy, outline, hypothesis, ... anything. It'll literally show you if what they say they are doing, is really what they are doing. In most cases, they are not doing, or they are what I call, "spinning". Quality is not just about the outcome.
Quality involves the thoughtful journey and process. (This includes having a: Framework. Diligence. Records.)
Happy international women's day 2017
Happy international women's day 2017. Maybe happy isn't the right word. I'm observing this day. I don't know if we should quite be celebrating. The state of humanity is teetering on the edge of being truly broken. I don't know about wearing red, marching, resisting, or any of that. What I do know is the following actions we can do each and every day to honor women, respect women, and be respected as women.
18 Ways to celebrate women and each other on International Women's Day 2017:
and a pen. Take notes.
Having worked for over a decade in management consulting, and now having been running this startup marathon for over three years, I always am bewildered by people that show up to meetings completely empty-handed. Bring a notebook. Always. Perhaps the training I received in consulting was just that good. Perhaps it's training that everyone should follow.
An "Employer" perspective: I once worked with this bright engineer who would nod vigorously in meetings, actively and delightfully participate in product meetings, and then a few hours after the meeting, have no recollection of what the meeting was about. We suggested she bring a notebook and take notes during the meeting to help - she never did. We soon parted ways.
Here's an "Employee" perspective: One of my first memories working at a "Big 4" management consulting firm was sitting in a very large intimidating conference room with the CFO and my firm's Partner level "big wigs". I was an Associate sitting in the back with the other Associates all furiously writing notes. At one point during the meeting, the client pointed to one of our Partners and then to one of the Associates that had stopped typing. A few moments later, he (that Associate) was escorted out of the room because he was not "adding any value" just sitting there. I learned at that moment, never let your guard down in meetings and always strive to add value.
Simply put: Bring a notebook, and take notes = you will auto-magically become WAY more effective.
Always take notes in these 3 situations:
If you're not used to carrying around a pen/paper always, other ways of accomplishing the same effect are: 1) add calendar items toward the end of the day and take notes in there, 2) send yourself emails with the notes, 3) voice record the meeting (not recommended for many reasons.) If I'm at a party for instance, and a situation comes up where I need a quick note, I will send myself emails when I'm not with my notebook.
My favorite method now is to carry a large black artist's sketchbook filled with large sheets of blank paper. I write notes, I draw arrows and connect meetings and thoughts. I emphasize some notes with extra underlines, circles and asterisks. Always bring a notebook.