Sunday, December 11, 2011

Volume 3 Issue 50: Intelligent Investing

Motivation From Shit - Part 2

In the previous issue, I talked about how demoralizing things can be when our hard work is dismissed as shit and how we can deal with it. In this issue, we will look at the other extreme. Instead of telling you that your work is shit, how would you like it if someone grin-fucks you?

What is grin-fuck? Here:
In business when someone smiles and shakes your hand assuring you that they have heard and will act upon your recommendation or concerns when in truth you have already been ignored and dismissed. 
Manager Bob: "Our associates will not repond positively to further cuts in their benefits. I strongly recommend against it."

Executive Dick: (Smiling, shaking Bob's hand and massaging his shoulder)"Thanks Bob, we'll take that under advisement. You know our employees are our most important asset."

Dick then processes Bob's pink slip and cuts non-management benefits by 30%.
Would you prefer it if someone were to tell you that you did a great job even though there was still a lot of room for improvement? To get an idea of how destructive grin-fucking is, here is what Mark Suster has to say:
But we couldn’t leave it as just a market positioning experience. People started to believe that there was real intellectual insight into the bullshit PowerPoint slides and customer surveys they were spitting out. By “people” I mean the people who were on the project. By “people” I do not mean the rest of us. Most people I knew were walking the halls talking cynically (it was London, after all!) about “integrated strategy” but then we’d go to company meetings and noone would say what they really thought it public. In small meetings they’d tell the senior management that they were happy Accenture was finally creating some original thought and that they supported it. Then those same people would come out for beers that night and declare that the people creating integrated strategy were “wankers.” 
I was nearing the end of my tenure at Accenture so my cheekiness and irreverence were on the rise. At a strategy offsite with several hundred strategy employees I was giving a presentation on stage and I asked, out loud, “why do we keep grin fucking each other (you could actually say that out loud in England) on the topic of Integrated Strategy? Privately you all acknowledge that nobody believes in it yet we’re letting our leadership continue to invest our money and reputation on something we know is going to fail because it has no real basis. I sure wish more people would speak up.” Obviously I got many laughs and applause. I guess not the most politic thing I’ve ever done, but you can ask anybody who was in the strategy practice of Accenture in London in 1999 and they’ll confirm I really did this. 
Don’t be a grin fucker. Stop the corporate bullshit when it hits your desk. You don’t have to do it as publicly and vocally as I did – in fact I don’t recommend it. But please be willing to politely and respectfully stand your ground when an internal initiative is off base or you don’t agree with it. I’ve stated previously that I believe that respectful open debate is the highest form of democracy. It also makes good business sense. Stand for high quality. Stand for holding people accountable when they’re proposing something you believe could damage the company’s reputation or waste time and resources. Make your arguments fact based. 
This is a very common problem. We get people who tell us that our ideas are great in front of us (grin-fuck), and then when they go for their coffee breaks or lunch breaks, they criticize the hell out of it. How is that helpful to us in any way? Mark continues with a personal story on how sometimes, bitter medicine can be useful:
When people come to present their businesses to me I try my best not to grin fuck them. I give direct, honest, blunt, polite and (I hope) useful feedback. It isn’t always “rah rah.” Last week I met with a founder who had sunk his personal money into buying a technology asset and hadn’t yet raised money – he was struggling a bit. He told me that he had offers to sell the assets to somebody else. I told him I thought he should sell the company rather than sink more money into his venture. I told him to sell now even it it was at a loss. 
I told him I thought it was too complicated of a business, he lacked the skills on his team to pull it off, it would take too much money and in the end I wasn’t sure it would be a valuable product. I said as I always do, “my view point is ONE data point. I might be wrong. Get lots of data points. Mix mine into your pot and see how it settles. I’m not always right but I’d rather tell you what concerns me than to sweep it under the rug.” In this gentleman’s case I was worried about his personal money because he wasn’t a 20 something. He had a family. And he was one of those guys that you meet and you just want to help because he’s so earnest and nice.
He wrote me afterward and here is our exchange: 
Him: ”Mark,Cold shower and all, how did I take the heat? Did I take the tough message at least reasonably well? Always looking how I can get better. 
Also – new terminology for delivering that type of news: “You Simonized me (as in Simon Cowell from American Idol)!! I grew up and played sports all my life. I come from a world that if the coach wasn’t yelling at you, it meant he didn’t care. I appreciate you giving it to me straight.” 
Me:“LOL. I didn’t mean to Simonize you. I care about you and just wanted to be sure that you didn’t waste any personal money. All startups are hard. Most lose money. Yours had more complexity and less engineering talent secured on the team than most. That’s all.” 
Him:“I understand and that is the way I took the feedback. Like I said, pleasantries do not help people learn. You helped me and I am grateful. I thank you for that”
To this gentleman I’m grateful for the feedback and I’m here to help if I can. Maybe people humor me, I don’t know? But I find that 70% of the time people prefer honesty as long as it’s delivered with care, with detail and with humility. I get emails like the one above all the time. People often tell me that I helped change their business by challenging some of their early thoughts. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job.  
I’m sure that 30% of the people thinking I’m a wanker for not saying I love what they’re doing. I’m OK with that. As long as I help other people by not grin fucking everybody. 
I found that most VC’s never gave me any feedback when I was pitching. The “loved what I was doing but were working on other things and would love to stay apprised of my progress.” Either that or they would “noodle on it and get back to me.” Yeah, right! 
Take the harder path. Politely speak your mind. Take a stand. Join the debate. Don’t be a grin fucker. It makes life too boring.
I don't want to be cliched and say that constructive criticism is useful. Everyone knows that. But the problem is, it is difficult to give constructive criticism. Usually, when we find a loophole, it is through our intuition and first impression. In an attempt to "protect" another person's feelings, we polish our criticism and very often, the meaning gets lost in translation. It could even misdirect the person to make the wrong kind of correction.

Quite frankly, I prefer the brutally honest, no-holds barred criticism. Whatever doesn't kill me, can only make me stronger. I hope...

Source: Both Sides Of The Table