Jess Lee (Partner at Sequoia Capital) and Aaron Harris (Partner at YC) discuss raising money as an early stage company, and how to think about the fundraising process. Ali Rowghani (CEO of YC Continuity, previously CFO, COO @ Twitter, CFO @ Pixar) shares his thoughts on how to be a great leader and succeed long-term. Thanks to Stanford Online.
Whether you’re making a speech before thousands of people in an auditorium or just two people in the small conference room, there are professionals who proclaim confidence is key. Stay poised – be bold – win your audience with self-confidence.
I’ve noticed a much different pattern with myself, though, when public speaking. It came up again just this week when I did a segment at the Ready to Launch conference in New York, sponsored by Entrepreneur.com and Canon. (That’s me on Tuesday in the image here … and my thanks to fellow-speaker Ivana Taylor of DIYMarketers for that picture.)
My job has always required a lot of speaking even when I was still pretty young. Before I was 25 I had done radio and standup television for UPI out of Mexico City. When I was in my 30s, I did workshops and speaking dates at trade shows like Comdex. And I’ve been doing business planning and startup workshops, and teaching, and some large-group speaking ever since.In spite of my decades of experience, however, I still have a fear of public speaking – and I wonder if this holds true for others. I still lose sleep the night before and worry about the outcome. Sometimes this type of anxiety can hold people back. With me, it’s just the opposite.
Newsflash: A little fear never hurt anybody
For many years, certainly for most of my career, there was a strong correlation between nervousness and doing well. Strange, I suppose, but true: the more nervous I got beforehand, the better I did. When I’d be tossing and turning all of the night before my talk, or had that embarrassing dry mouth and shaking hands at the beginning of a talk, I’d end up doing better.
Confidence seemed to be a bad sign. For years, for most of my career, if I was cool and calm then my performance was not as good.
Some of my anxiety wore off a little by the time I reached maybe 50 years old. But even now, with the big groups, the 1,000-seat auditoriums, I still get nervous and the stage fright or whatever that is tends to make me perform (as far as I can tell) better, not worse.
Ignore the nerves and jump right in
Sometimes, out of nervousness, speakers tend to prepare long preambles to an actual speech. While you may think it gives your time to gain confidence while trying to connect with an audience, chances are, your audience is tuning out. And by the time you get to the meat of your talk, no one may be listening.
I like this advice: Start in the middle. Start at the most interesting point. Choose powerful first words, with immediate interest. Grab your audience quickly. The worst ways to start a presentation (or any story) is “My name is ___ and I’d like to talk to you about…”
I recently listened (again) to JD Schramm’s speech on How to Tell Your Story for Impact. A Stanford business school communications lecturer, Schramm advises people skip the boring preamble altogether. He says:
Many times we feel like we have to do a lot of prefacing, but four minutes goes by quickly. If you spend two minutes on background, you’ve lost an opportunity to grab attention. Far better to leave the identifying bits until the second paragraph, or to the overhead PowerPoint image, or to the person charged with giving the introductions.
How to motivate employees? According to new research, messages from on high need to be more abstract and less details. And messages from immediate supervisors need to be more concrete. Here’s the summary:
In particular, they found that the right message from the right person — a concrete call to action from a leader close to a follower and an abstract message from a leader hierarchically distant from a follower — elicited a stronger commitment and willingness to take action. Their studies also proved the opposite was true, that when distant leaders formulated concrete, overly detailed messages or when direct managers delivered abstract messages, their employees were far less engaged, committed, and motivated.
That’s from How Do You Motivate Your Employees? on one of the Stanford business school sites. It reports on research by Stanford Business School Professor Nir Halevy and Bar-Ilan University in Israel professor Yair Berson, examined the way in which leaders — “whether they are country presidents, chief executives or midlevel managers” — communicate with their followers.
The two researchers looked specifically at something known as construal level theory, which states that the psychological distance between a leader and his or her followers influences the concreteness or abstractness of that leader’s communication in the eyes of followers.
What I like about this research is it quietly acknowledges the importance of making case-by-case conclusions. This appeals to me much more than research that looks at a single case and extrapolates that to the whole world.
And I also liked, in the summary I liked to above, some simple advice anybody can use:
With the results of these studies in mind, Halevy says business leaders can take practical steps to more effectively motivate, communicate, and manage their reports, whether they are direct or indirect. “Think about the omnipresence of micromanaging,” says Halevy. “A lot of people think it’s ideal to be a hands-on manager, that even though I’m the CEO, I’m very ‘hands-on.’ What we’re saying with this paper is that sometimes that might actually backfire. Maybe it’s not such a good idea.” Halevy says managers will get their subordinates to do more of what they want them to do if there is construal fit. “You want your subordinates to internalize what you’re asking them to do, and with construal fit, it’s easier for people to process your message,” he says. “The less effort to process, the faster the action.”
What explains this longevity? Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Charles O’Reilly calls it ‘organizational ambidexterity’: the ability of a company to manage its current business while simultaneously preparing for changing conditions. ‘You often see successful organizations failing, and it’s not obvious why they should fail,’ O’Reilly says. The reason, he says, is that a strategy that had been successful within the context of a particular time and place may suddenly be all wrong once the world changes.
So running a business right requires minding the details but also watching the horizon. Eyes down, eyes up. At the same time.
Which reminds me that dribbling is one of my favorite analogies for business planning. In soccer or basketball, dribbling means managing the hand-eye or foot-eye coordination of the immediate detail while simultaneously looking up and watching opponents and teammates and plays developing. When I was coaching kids in soccer, I’d try to help them remember to also look up and not just down at the ball. The best players did this naturally.
It’s a cycle. Plan, with metrics and milestones. Review once a month. Revise. Do it again next month. That’s the way to last forever, according to O’Reilly. It’s the right way to manage the details and the long term simultaneously.
What a great thought: how people approach failure is a key to success. That comes straight from Why Failure Drives Innovation, an article by Baba Shiv, Professor of Marketing, published in the Stanford Graduate School of Business news page. Consider this:
“Failure” is a dreaded concept for most business people. But failure can actually be a huge engine of innovation for an individual or an organization. The trick lies in approaching it with the right attitude and harnessing it as a blessing, not a curse.
In his article, Prof. Shiv pits fear of making mistakes against fear of losing opportunities.
He says most individuals, managers and corporations live with fear of making mistakes:
In this mindset, to fail is shameful and painful. Because the brain becomes very risk averse under this line of thinking, innovation is generally nothing more than incremental. You don’t get off-the-charts results.
The entrepreneur, however, is more worries about losing out on opportunities:
Places like Silicon Valley are full of type 2s. What is shameful to these people is sitting on the sidelines while someone else runs away with a great idea. Failure is not bad; it can actually be exciting. From so-called “failures” emerge those valuable gold nuggets — the “aha!” moments of insight that guide you toward your next innovation.
I like that a lot. I’ve written often that one of the most important traits for entrepreneurs is being able to live with mistakes. This makes perfect sense to me.
The number of students from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business who have chosen to start their own businesses within four months of graduating has grown to 16% among the 385-member class of 2011—more than a fivefold increase since 1990, according to the university.
Only 3% of the 1990 class founded their own businesses shortly after graduating, says the school. …
That doesn’t surprise me. It’s convergence. The big companies are struggling. Big consulting isn’t as glamorous anymore. The Stanford GSB curriculum has embraced entrepreneurship. Big winners — Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Phil Knight — are household names. The Stanford business school hosts a parade of insightful entrepreneurs filling guest spots. Take a look at — for example — the Stanford eCorner or the Stanford Business School channel on YouTube. You’ll see what I mean.
Not that Stanford is special in this regard. Entrepreneurship has taken over business schools up and down the prestige ladder. Harvard, Wharton, Northwestern, same thing. I point out Stanford because those are the emails I get, and the groups I join. And I’m glad the GSB has changed and adapted since I was there, 30 years ago, and most of us wanted to be management consultants.
Here’s a great tip for anybody presenting anything to an audience:
Skip the boring preamble. Many times we feel like we have to do a lot of prefacing, but four minutes goes by quickly. If you spend two minutes on background, you’ve lost an opportunity to grab attention. Far better to leave the identifying bits until the second paragraph, or to the overhead PowerPoint image, or to the person charged with giving the introductions.
Start in the middle. Start at the most interesting point. Choose powerful first words, with immediate interest. Grab your audience quickly. The worst ways to start a presentation (or any story) is “My name is ___ and I’d like to talk to you about…”
Some of this is things I learned in decision science in business school way back when, and some of it what I’ve learned and seen in the real world for several decades. I see these time-related mistakes too often, and I’ve made every one of them myself, and more than once. To some extent, I suspect that our instincts (or at least mine) might be challenged in relation to letting time run. I hope by listing these common mistakes here I can help you avoid making them yourself.
1. When time is on your side, you should wait.
This one’s about understanding the flow of information and the costs of waiting. First, ask yourself what additional information you’ll have if you wait. Then ask yourself what the penalties of waiting might be. Then evaluate the weight of each.
People very often decide before they have to, when there is more information coming, and no penalty for waiting. Never make a decision when there is no penalty for waiting and more information is coming. Wait. I heard this first from David Kreps, who was then (1980) a very young professor at the Stanford Business School, and is now a bit older, and has his own wikipedia entry.
2. Don’t solve the same problem three times over.
This is an all-too-common problem related to misunderstanding time. I’ve see it a lot, and participated in it more than once. The team gets together to discuss a long-term problem and comes up with a long term Three months later, that long-term problem is still there, and even though the solution is now underway, the team, still frustrated, gets together again, and comes up with another solution. It’s hard to remember that one long-term solution is already underway when you still have the problem. And, in some cases, another solution starts, and takes time and effort, but in another three months, the problem is still there, so the team sets up a third solution, and starts that rolling.
Instead of reminding each other that the solution is underway, the team, frustrated, invents something else. And, as often as not, the second solution undermines the first, and the third solution undermines the second. Or maybe it just seems that way to me on a bad day.
3. Don’t have tomorrow’s panic today.
It’s Tuesday morning and you’re in crisis. You need Thing A to appear before Wednesday afternoon or you’re screwed. There is actually a pretty good chance that Thing A will appear in time, but still, the gravity of the situation drives you crazy. What if Thing A doesn’t appear in time? Then what will we do? Quick! Let’s find Thing B fast.
Done right, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s contingency planning. It’s like thinking ahead of the moves in chess. You ask yourself what you’ll do on Wednesday afternoon if Thing A hasn’t appeared. And if there is a painless way to make Thing B’s appearance more likely, just in case … and it doesn’t interfere with Thing A, then it’s not a bad idea.
However, what a lot of people do is have Wednesday afternoon’s full-blown panic on Tuesday morning because they don’t have the patience to put off the panic until tomorrow. And that’s bad for decision making, bad for your health, and bad for your business.
Is there any generalized institution in the world that needs disruption more badly than education? Right now there are more than a billion people under 10 years old. How well do you think we adults are doing with educating all those kids?
You can’t have a leading economy and a lagging educational system
I know for a fact that you cannot have a leading economy and have a lagging educational system. You cannot lead as a country when your education system is failing.
How much do you think technology has changed public education in the U.S.? Could we measure the impact of word processing on writing, or calculators on math? I have to step away from the computer for a minute and clear my mind to remember when I was in high school and college and research took rifling through the index of periodicals, and the card catalog in the library, and finding the physical printed hard copies of everything I needed. How much has online video changed things?
The Stanford article ticks off some advances, like new developments:
DreamBox Learning customizes the way information is presented to pupils, an approach company CEO and President Jessie Woolley-Wilson says helps students understand multiplication, division, and other concepts more quickly.
Ireland-based electronic-learning company RISE operates a network of education centers across China that teach English to Chinese children using an American curriculum designed specifically for Asian students who ultimately want to attend college in the United States.
An online program developed by internet-based Knewton teaches math tailored to each student’s abilities. The service can “predict in advance if you’re going to fail at a concept before you ever see it.” If so, it deploys a more appropriate learning strategy
During the past 5 years, 181 education-focused U.S. companies have received venture capital funding.
Ambow Education Group is China’s first e-learning platform.
K12 Inc. provides proprietary curriculum and online education programs to students in grades kindergarten through 12.
But of course that’s just a drop in the bucket, a few stories. Think of what technology has done for, say, television, or media in general. Published music? Mail? Business? Then compare that to education, where our kids, in this country, still depend on teachers and books and classrooms; and in poorer countries they don’t even have that … how badly does education still need disrupting?
What bothers me is this whole topic quickly projects me back to the early 1980s when I was a market researcher for a company specializing in forecasting technology business. Some 30 years ago technology was going to change everything in education; or so we thought. We made a big deal of Control Data Corporation’s push to change education with online learning.
New research takes a fresh look at this topic. Jennifer Aaker and Melanie Rudd at Stanford University, and Cassie Mogilner at the University of Pennsylvania, published “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Consider Time,” in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2011. They discuss how happiness is indeed a consequence of the choices people make. So what can people do to increase their happiness? Their answer is surprisingly simple: spend your time wisely.
Author Alice LePlant offers a good summary of a collection of research pointing towards the same conclusion. Among several points she brings up, this one is particularly striking for entrepreneurs and small business owners:
We spend most of our time at work. So understanding how we should be spending our time at work is much more important than people think. It has been interesting to observe which companies are doing a good job of creating opportunities for employees to manage their own time. This goes beyond providing opportunities for flexible hours, telecommuting, and independent contractor relationships. Which companies are allowing opportunities for employees to fundamentally design how they spend their time both at work and outside of work — in ways that are creative and innovative? As Millennials enter the workforce, these types of demands will become even more common.