Archives for January 2019

Luck v. Skill

I really like the podcast How I Built This, on which Guy Raz interviews entrepreneurs about the businesses they have built. At the end of most of the interviews he asks each entrepreneur how much of their success they attribute to luck and how much they attribute to skill. The answers can be interesting, but it always makes me apply the same question to my business and those of my clients. Since first listening to that podcast in the last few years I have been known to pose the same question to my clients and professional contacts.

For me, and for most of the people I have asked, I believe it’s a combination of both. I include timing as part of luck, because most times there is nothing you can pin a chance meeting or conversation on.

An example is when, many years ago, I interviewed at a law firm where a partner there asked me for references. In addition to asking for the usual type of references we generally know will say how great we are – otherwise why would we be using those people as references? – they asked for an adverse reference. I never had been asked that question and thought of an attorney who had been very complementary after being adverse to me in my first trial. The end result was that the formerly adverse attorney, after giving me a great adverse reference, asked me to come work at the firm where she was then employed. I accepted that offer.

If Law Firm A hadn’t asked for an adverse reference I never would have had the opportunity with Law Firm B. Additionally, the timing of this occurring was at a point in time when Law Firm B was interested in hiring someone with my background and skills.

Without those skills, the serendipitous timing wouldn’t have mattered. My skills allowed the opportunity to advance to a job offer and to succeed in that new position.

The point is that business and life are an amazing combination of luck and skill. You need to take the time to hone your skills in you chosen line of work. As you move forward you need to be open to luck and timing. This could be a job opportunity like I had, or a chance connection with a new client with really interesting work for you to do.

If any of you have a great story on the intersection of luck and skill, I would like to hear about it.

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Feedback is important

It is important to provide people with feedback in the workplace. Feedback should be positive or in the form of constructive criticism. Purely negative feedback accomplishes nothing and is the sign of a poor corporate culture.

If you are providing positive feedback, make it meaningful. You should praise someone’s work or actions when it’s really deserved and you mean what you say. Being overly complimentary all of the time won’t help morale or people improve in the long run.

In our participation trophy world, praise can be handed out too much and in situations where it’s not warranted. Don’t give positive feedback when it isn’t deserved. If you do it only will cause problems down the road.

In a similar vein, people withhold praise when it would provide validation for an employee who did a good job and deserves it. I know it can be hard to always know how complimentary to be or when to provide some constructive criticism. The better you know the person the easier it should be to know how and when to provide feedback.

If you start thinking about providing feedback more often you likely can find the balance in trying to provide the right amount of feedback to your co-workers. Try it and see the positive effect it can have on you and your workplace.

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Try new things and hold yourself accountable

It’s the first full week of a new year. I hadn’t decided what to write about when I saw a great quote from Anthony Bourdain. The last part of the quote caught my attention. He said “Open your mind. Get up off the couch. Move.”

Given his television show and how he lived his live, he may be referring to traveling and new experiences. I read the quote expansively. I read it to say to be active and try new things.

These are both good ideas. Being active is good for your body and mind. Don’t be a couch potato. You miss out on so much if you are, other than possibly some additional TV time.

If you haven’t been active in a while, start by taking a short walk. What you do should be dictated by your current level of activity, or inactivity. It’s okay to start slow and it will give you a better chance to stay active consistently.

When you are trying new things, whether exercise or something new in your work, accountability may help. Accountability partners help to keep you honest on how your new activity is going. It can be good to include your accountability partner in your new activity or work strategy. They can help you stick with it when you might otherwise give up.

It’s up to you if you want to call a new activity a “resolution” or not. The goal is long term change, so call it whatever helps you keep that in mind.

I also like the idea of traveling and new experiences. If you go on a great adventure in 2019. Please let me know because I always like ideas of places to go and people to meet!

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