The Power of a Pointed Question

I spent 3 days of back-to-back meetings at a conference recently. We pitched, we listened.

By far the best questions I received were from my final meeting of the show. While delivering my normal feature-benefit shtick, this Chief Revenue Officer honed in.

Exactly how long have you been doing this?

Exactly how much revenue are your customers generating as a result of this data?

Tell me specifically how they’re using this data…

Not only was she paying attention, she immediately got to the most salient points.

Most of our other conversations at the show meandered around the edges. Now that I think about it, a big chunk of daily conversations never get to the point.

Sometimes that’s intentional – you don’t always need to be right, make your point, or reach a conclusive answer.

For professional conversations, I think I’d rather ask, and be asked, the pointed questions. Lesson learned.

Old Hands

Last week I looked at my hands. For the very first time they looked old. Wrinkly and dry.

These days they’re mostly used for typing and steering down I-40..

Long ago, they lived a tougher, more adventurous life life amongst pool chemicals, window cleaning, high pressure water, cold weather, and repeated beatings against stringed instruments of all sorts.

I’d like to say that my hands became wiser with age. They didn’t. They just got old.

The Selfish Fan

We’ve all suffered through it: the selfish fan. The person at the basketball, baseball, football, or futbol game. The one who hurls insults repeatedly at the refs, who yells louder and longer than everyone else, who screams obscenities, who becomes so angered their face reddens, brow furrows, and spittle flies.

Live sports events create and stimulate emotion and reaction. That’s what makes them so enjoyable and thrilling to attend. At some point, however, over-reacting becomes less about your emotion, and more about the person delivering it. The need for attention.

Look at me. I’m important because I’m angry, loud, obscene, aggressive.

We attended a basketball game. One fan sitting directly in front of us, yelled an elongated “brrrrriiiiiiiiick” during the hushed moment of a foul shout. Hahaha! Everyone had a chuckle, despite cheering for the wrong team.

He then repeated this chant for each repeating foul shout. All 15 of them. Fans from both sides shot him frustrated glares after the third outburst.

I festered in my annoyance. I dreamt of dousing water on his head to shut him up, or shoving him in the back. Doing what any rationale person would do, I decided to passive aggressively write about it instead.

It didn’t help his team, didn’t hurt ours, it just drew attention to himself. Selfish.

The best part about being at the game was the people. That was also the worst part.

LA Is Different than CHRDU

I’m traveling for work in Los Angeles. It’s 35 degrees back home in Chapel Hill right now, and 81 here. The warm weather, along with a completely different landscape, combine for a mild dose of culture shock.

Cars. Lots of cars. Lots of really expensive cars. Everywhere. Lots of Porsches. Who the hell drives Porches in North Carolina? Not many. Too pretentious. In LA, every other garage or parking spot has a Porsche in it. You know you’ve made it when…

Big, busy roads. I know this makes me sound like a country bumpkin. North Carolina indeed has paved roads. I commute almost 2 hours every day on an eight-lane highway.

The problem with LA’s big roads is that they’re foiling my plan to walk. I found quaint lodging a few blocks from my conference, thinking it would be simple to walk everywhere. While each road has sidewalks, only being able to cross a six lane highway every half mile isn’t completely pedestrian friendly. During an afternoon jog I almost replaced the hood ornament on a glossy Mercedes, then proceeded to get scolded by a crossing guard at a Jewish school. WTF, LA?

But as I’m walking out of Ralph’s grocery near Century City, I see a BMW driving, rich looking dude in designer jeans and t-shirt hand a bum a few bucks and a bottle of water in the parking lot. Beemer guy waves goodbye, drives off, and grateful homeless man salutes farewell.

Does not compute.

In the land of designer everything, a brief moment of compassion restores balance to the universe.

Expert, Until Proven Otherwise

The past year I’ve met a lot of new people. When you meet someone for the first time, human natures forces you to start forming an opinion of this person. Do they think like me? Dress like me? Act like me?

I found myself judging people incorrectly if they didn’t sync closely with my view of the world. Completely irrational, but a knee jerk reaction I couldn’t stop.

The fix I’m testing: treat everyone as an “expert” until they prove otherwise. I don’t know in what field they are an expert, but there’s 100% chance they’re more knowledgeable than me about something.  On a few occasions, new people I’ve met have proven to be knuckleheads, but the vast majority are not knuckleheads. Until that point of knucklehead proof, thinking of someone as an expert helps reduce the judginess.

Good Stress Vs. Bad Stress

I overheard someone at the gym today.  She remarked to her friend, “You know, it’s good stress, so it’s okay”.

Upon hearing this, I was instantly transported back to my shower.  The year was 2010.  We had newborn twins, and I a full-time job with and an evening MBA program.

In the shower I was attempting to shake off the day’s stresses when I came to a similar realization.  My life was hectic, challenging, and semi-crushing, but full of good stress.

  • Getting my learn on
  • Happy, healthy baby twins, and 3 year old on top of that
  • Making enough money to pay the bills and save a little

As a startup, realizing the difference between good and bad stress helps make sense of the world.  It’s pretty easy to spot the difference between the two.

Bad Stress

  • Losing key employees
  • Losing customers
  • Losing your market

Good Stress

  • Getting a working product in a customer’s hands after 2 years of building it
  • Getting that first big customer launched
  • Getting the infrastructure built (or re-built) to handle scale

Even on great days at a startup, or any company, there’s still stress, but hopefully it’s the good kind.

A Thought For Friday: Why It’s Okay For “Monday”

Can openers are more fun than work.

Every now and then you’ll find an article somewhere that says you should be overjoyed to come to work on Monday.  The idea is that you love your work so much, how could you possibly be a little bummed when you plop yourself down in your cube, with fluorescent lights blaring upon your face, and a slew of “did you hit your goals” meetings coming up.

Kudos to those people who crush Mondays.  I dream of conquering life in the way that you are.

I really enjoy working for our company.  I really enjoy my work.  But there’s no way that my enjoyment for work can compare to the good times of the weekend.

  • Cooking pancakes with the kids.
  • Biggest-splash-ever contest at the pool.  My “can opener” is legendary.
  • Socializing with friends and staying up late until 11pm.  Whew!
  • Riding bikes.
  • Paddling kayaks.
  • Date night.
  • Visit to a friend’s lake house.

It’s okay to “come down” from that.

Your Company Pivot Is A Movie Montage

Next up in this series on living through a pivot, we look in the rearview mirror.  Let’s jump back to early 2014.

Our business of building news, weather, and sports apps for TV stations matured, and reached the end of its lifespan.  We had time to figure out a new path, but not much, and were batting around dozens of ideas on what to do next.

I remember at least 5 brainstorming sessions, a mini-hack day or two, and a walk through downtown.  Yes, in attempting to figure out new ideas for the digital and mobile ecosystem, we strolled the physical world.  Attempting to spark creativity out of nowhere can yield a fruit or two, but the best insights frequently come when you least expect, and when you’re not plugging away at a routine.

We were looking for cues of any kind.  It’s not that we expected to discover an entirely new business model as we sauntered down Glenwood Ave, but rather to begin a chain reaction of thinking and discussing new possibilities.  Once you find that, articulating a solvable problem to test against a business model becomes a little easier.  A little.

Now, as I think back upon that time, all of those discovery sessions blend together like a movie montage.  Strolling down memory lane is much more pleasant if we throw in a little Hungry Eyes (for all you Dirty Dancing fans) or Let’s Hear It For the Boy (from the real Footloose, not that shitty remake).

PS – I walk around the office like this, all day.