The first draft phenomena

You know what grinds my gears? Management Issues

Here is a weird trend I noticed lately: the first draft is not the first draft anymore. The first draft is the final version. Drives me crazy!

So this is what happens:

First people will tell you things like:

  • “Can you please quickly draft some ideas. Nothing big, just so we have a start for our conversation”
  • “Can you please send me a short list of things that we should include? Be careful, don’t make it science project.”
  • “Can you take a few minutes to draft a press release. I just want to see the direction you are going with this. Don’t spend to much time on it.”

Then you send the draft and all of a sudden you hear things like:

  • “Cool. I am going to present this in the MT meeting tomorrow.“
  • “Ok, sounds good I will send this to IT. They will build it.”

Noooooo! Noooooo! Noooo! This is not meant for that. 15min is not enough to come up with the whole thing. Stop treating it like the final thing.

OR

The other equally annoying part is when people forget this is supposed to be a “quick thing” and start saying things like:

  • Why did you use this word?
  • Wouldn’t it be better to reverse these paragraphs?
  • Why didn’t you mention the other thing?

Grrr!! We just agreed this is going to be a conversation starter not the bloody “Declaration of Independence ”. Stop treating it like the final thing. Work with me. Don’t attack my 15 min work!

Key Learning Point

My advice?

1. Try not to treat your first draft like a … first draft, but as a proposal that will represent you going forward. At least this is what I am doing from now on.

2. Spend more time for your first draft and review it yourself a few times.

Just remember, in many cases, your first draft is the first impression. Whatever you present to your team will influence the discussion. It will be a huge brick to the foundation.

One Reply To All and you are f###ed

I cannot stress this enough: be careful what you write in an email. You might think that the conversation is between you and your colleague, but all it takes is an accidental Reply To All or an innocent Forward and your “private conversation” is not so private anymore.

I still remember the first time I intercepted this private and incredibly long chain of emails going back and forth between the MT. I asked for some info regarding a project I was working on and one of the managers forward me a decision made at the end of a long exchange of emails;  much longer than I imagined and much richer than I imagined.

Here are my tips for writing appropriate emails: Continue reading

Basketball Training

StartUp Mentality: Failing vs Training

“FAIL fast, FAIL often and FAIL early”

If your kid would like to start playing basketball or start playing an instrument what would you tell her or him?

I doubt that you first thought would be: “hey kiddo, listen to me if you want to be number one you gotta FAIL fast, FAIL often and FAIL early”.

I think you would rather say something like “I am proud of you kiddo. I am sure that if you TRAIN you will become very good at it and I will be there to support you.”

Am I right? Mkay, now let’s think about starting your first business.

You are about to create something new. You have no prior experience but you just love the idea of making it happen.  You create your startup and score a lot of points like:

  • Finding an a office
  • Hiring your first employees
  • Taking care of all the paper work
  • Getting better at marketing, sales and business development

After a while you realize you can’t make and you have to close down the project.

If you would have to assess your results, this would be like going to your first basketball match and scoring 50% of all your shots.  Damn, that’s a pretty sweet achievement. You did some cool stuff, you tested some theories, you have an initial benchmark, and if you keep training you will only improve yourself.

For me, telling someone he failed after his first try is like telling a little kid he failed at walking after his first attempt.

 A closer look at failing

Let’s put failing in perspective shall we? For that I would like to share my thoughts on: the definition of failing and how our goals determine if we failed or not.

If you search for the definition of failing you will get something like: “to end without success” or “be unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal”. I believe this is a very important piece of the puzzle.

So, in order to fail, firstly you need to END your journey. Once you stopped you must not continue. You must not take another shot and you must not try anything else.  If however you decide that this is not THE END but only a pause, then I would say you didn’t failed …not just yet.

Secondly, you need to not reach your GOAL and this has to do a lot with how we set goals for ourselves or how we perceive other people’s goals. There is a big difference between: my first startup will be a success and I will build a successful company. (Regardless of how you choose to measure that success)

Do you see the difference? In the first example you want to be the best basketball player in the first tournament and in the second example you want to become the best player no matter how many times you try.

Here is what you can take away from this:

  1. As an entrepreneur: set you goals right, as these will influence your expectations. Focus on training not on failing
  2. As the judging public: look beyond the first trial and see what else is coming. Don’t label just yet.

 What clay pots can teach us about failing?

A few days a go I stumbled across a story that really made a mark on me. I keep thinking and thinking about it ever since and I believe it can add a lot to my point about failing.  This story is from a book called: “Art and Fear” and it goes like this:

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

Here is what you can take away from this:

  • Fear of failing is very real and affects our work, even though we try make it cool by saying things like: “FAIL fast, FAIL often and FAIL early”.
  • By failing many times at something you get more experience. Again, isn’t this the pessimistic view on training? So why not focus on the optimistic part?

They say it takes 10.000 hours to become an expert at something. One surely cannot expect that to be different for starting a business. If anything I think it takes even longer.

Why should we use Training instead of Failing?

My first point is that failing fast and failing often is actually the pessimistic perspective of looking at all you things you have learned. And if your goal is to create a successful business, as long as you don’t stop you did not fail.

I think it is extremely important to focus on the positive aspect of your work. Either we want to admit it or not, the way we talk influences how we behave (think NLP). By using a different lens/perspective to analyze your achievement you are encouraged to continue instead of quitting. No matter how much we want to change the meaning of what failing means in a startup world, the truth is that everywhere else failing is still bad.

My second point is built on the fact that in many cultures/countries failing is bad.

Not all entrepreneurs have the privilege to start their own company in a country like the US, which understands the meaning of “failing in business”.

I know that the general feeling is that in Europe failing is frowned upon and as a consequence there are less people trying to start their own thing. Imagine the impact on a global scale if more people would be encouraged to follow their passion and start their own company. Imagine if entrepreneurs all over the world would be encouraged and they would focus on the experience gained instead of the wasted time & resources.

Well, that’s about it… Now I am really curious to know what you think about my theory.  Is training a more appropriate word for working on your ability to create startups or should we keep calling it failing?

Photo by ryan_fung

Why and how to define your tasks

Let me tell you a short personal story…

A few weeks ago my manager comes to me and tells me: “Hey Andi, one of the company we worked with (let’s call it T) will help us to create a cool “How to use our product” video. For FREE!

All I could say was: “Sweeeeeeeet!!!” (not really, but I did not question the offer a lot)

Excited by the idea of getting free professional help, I quickly jumped on board and created a doc with all the things we should include in the How To film. I talked about how our customers can set up the platform, how they can gather content, how they can analyze the results and so on. Being a proud product manager, I wanted to tell them everything about the cool features we built in and all the technical possibilities.

Soon after I finished my doc, we sent it to T for review and next day we had a short meeting to see if we are going in the right direction.

When the specialist dropped by and we started talking about the film, I realized I prepared for the wrong How To. This was not supposed to a movie that would explain the features of our product to our clients but instead a movie that would explain the benefits our clients would get if they would use our platform.

Now, I felt a bit … unprepared let’s say.

The good thing was that we had an early feedback session and I was able to rewrite the script over the weekend so on Monday morning the producer could take a look at it…

So this was the story.  Now let’s see how I could have prevented this…

Key Learning Point

This whole experience made me think once more about that famous quote from Abraham Lincoln: “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe”. He was so right.

  • Ask for all the details you need

Make sure you don’t jump on the task without getting a clear overview of all the things you need to do. They say “Assumption is the mother of all fuck ups”. Stop assuming you are on the same page with everybody else. I can’t tell you how many times I thought this, only  to realize we were saying the same words but we were thinking about different things.  So ask!! It will save you time and embarrassment in the long run.

  • Write everything down and send it in an email

Not saying this was not my fault. Not saying it was entirely my fault either. But the thing is I can’t prove anything.

The next thing is to cover your back. Sounds weak but yeah, do it. When people don’t assume stuff, they forget stuff. And what happens then? They start making things up, things that you did not agree upon.

It’s easy to blame someone else if there is no proof. The truth will always be somewhere in the middle…

  • Reconfirm

Once you have the notes. Read them aloud or send them in an email and ask for confirmation. Ask: “Is this what we want? Do we all agree”.

Think about this 3-step process as sharpening the axe. Yes it might take a bit longer than anyone would like to but when you have a sharp blade you cut away much, much faster.

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 10.05.12

Finding a job post-MBA

Intro: Why did I write this article?

In the last 4 months I had a several Skype calls with some of the MBA-14 students from RSM. They contacted me for various reasons: some because they liked my LinkedIn profile (formatting only), some because they felt we have similar experience, some because I was one of the first MBA 13 students to land a job, 4 months before the official graduation, and finally some to ask me how to get a job at the same company I was working for.

After a few conversations I noticed one thing… No matter what they were calling for, the discussion was drifting every time to the same topic: how do I find and get the right job for me after graduation?  Because I have noticed this recurring question, which I tried to answer many times, I though maybe it would be a good idea to write it down in blog post. This way if we have a call we can get ahead start and focus on specific questions, which are more relevant to your case. In the same time, I hope this blog post can be an inspiration source for others who find themselves in a similar situation; no matter what school they graduate from.

What recommends me?

  1. I was one of the first students from the MBA 13 batch who found a job. My first day of work was 1st of December 2012 and I officially graduated in March 2013.
  2. I only applied for a few positions; I think 6 or 7 in total. I had a phone interview with almost all of them. I had 3 serious leads and was able to choose an offer.
  3. 7 month later, the project I was hired for got canceled. Before the end of the project I had 2 offers and very serious lead on a third position.
  4. I love my job

How did I do it?

  • Knowing what I want
  • Building on my prior experience
  • Showing I am the right guy for the job

Let’s start… 

How do you know what you do want from you future job?

Continue reading

Atunci va fi o poveste scurtă

“Atunci va fi o poveste scurtă, o confesiune scurtă: Acum două-trei după-amieze, primesc un telefon de la un necunoscut, care era îngrijorat că aş fi bolnav, care era fericit că m-aş fi însănătoţit, mă rog… Şi-mi spune un lucru care m-a lasat aşa… nemaipomenit de bucuros. Mi-a spus, zice: bă, poete, zice, nu mor caii când vor câinii. Şi-mi spun mie: ştii că are dreptate, am spus eu, să ştii că omul ăsta are dreptate. Păi nu mor caii când vor câinii! Şi, de altfel… ” – Nichita Stanescu