Strategy, likeability, & the judging of books

I love Doug, my VC. I love when he goes all hard core on me, and I love when he strokes my ego (this is more validation because what I’m doing is quite the stretch for me, even if I don’t always admit that). I also love when we just talk about STUFF, like what makes a good entrepreneur.
He said that having a sense of humour must be an important part of it. After the last few days I am now going to generalise his input to be that you have to be just enough of miserably f*cking crazy.
My contribution to the discussion at the time was to say that you had to be good at both seeing where to go and how to get there. An offhand comment from Lance over chat made me double-down on this one. He, like I, flatters himself a great strategist. But it came up because I was talking about my attention to detail, and he said that he had that too, and it was what made him a great strategist.
It actually makes a lot of sense to me. A lot of people can see the forest but not the trees, or they can see a vision but get lost on how to execute. A lot of people can see the details but get overwhelmed by the volume of details and lose sight of the context and what it all means. To be able BOTH to see a big vision AND how to get there, is, apparently, a very rare combination.
It’s that same thing that makes a good salesman so rare: a salesman is really just a good people person. You’ve got to be able to handle the fast-talking guy who claims he’s not technical but really is as well as the actually very technical CIO, and the customer who really doesn’t even know what she wants but knows what she doesn’t like, all without missing a beat.
Strange the routes we take in life, but you know what? Having been a product manager for ten years taught me both of the above. Nature, nurture …. Can’t tell. Doesn’t matter. I am who I am and where I am.
So I said in the last post that if you’re a fan of something or someone, you’re biased, and you have to watch out for that both in the time of infatuation, and then if that person, or thing, or company, or whatever, disappoints you in any way.
I was also thinking that we’re obviously more forgiving of people that we like. At least, I am. Here’s the secret, by the way, of how to get me to like you: be intelligent, be engaging and think laterally, make me laugh, accept criticism well, don’t lie to me, and be positive more often than you’re negative. Not that hard.
I mean, being likeable is one thing, and there most definitely is such a thing as being too charming …. But being likeable does have its advantages.
Speaking of advantages, I’ve also been thinking (not sure how I find the time for all this thinking!) about the advantages and disadvantages of being physically attractive. I seem to recall that there were studies somewhere that people who are better looking have higher wages, on average. But the thing is, it can cut both ways: we shouldn’t, but do, judge books by their covers. I was relaying the story of my recent underestimation of a certain person who I presumed was ‘just’ a pretty boy. Big mistake. It may not matter; most people will figure out what’s going on sooner or later.
Or not. My friend Sam, who is lovely, and gentle, and beautiful, and a model, had a throwaway comment on Christmas. We were talking about a mutual friend who is super smart, very insightful, hard working, strategic … the exact sort of employee your company wants. And his isn’t listening to his ideas for improvement. I was expressing some frustration to her, like ‘what is wrong with those people, why don’t they get it?’ and she said something along the lines of: ‘Well that’s easy for you to say: YOU are good looking!’
Beware the ad hominem. That is all.
Beware the charismatic leader who doggedly sticks to his or her worldview. Hell, beware the leader who doesn’t listen. I’ve learned more by listening to Adam’s questions in his first two weeks of sales than I did selling by myself in all of January. How much more would I learn if I would shut up every once in a while? I’m quick to shut down the pointless bitching in others but not in myself. Doug is right.
One of the people I follow on Twitter had this gem that Riaan and I were talking about while swimming in the river at his farm on Saturday morning: ‘Most people don’t reach their goals because they lose focus, can’t stay dedicated, and get tired of making sacrifices.’
Then my awesome boss from the early Exit41 days, Ed Boudrot, who always gave me good advice but not necessarily advice I was ready for, came out with this: Willpower – excuses = discipline.
As I said above, if you’re going to be an entrepreneur or, hell, a successful athlete at your chosen sport, you’re going to have to struggle through all sorts of stuff that would make someone less dedicated back off.
That’s why I don’t commit to too many things: between Skyrove, CrossFit, qigong, and trying to have some semblance of a social life, I have my hands more than full.
So I am going out to dinner on Monday night. I really want to have a glass of wine or two, because it would be fun, and there’s a certain level of relationship-building with vendors and partners that happens over booze. It just does.
But I won’t. I’m in my second year now of not drinking during CrossFit competition season (also, no desserts, or grains, and cheese only VERY rarely). Last year, this may not have been the healthiest thing for me but this year I’m handling it a bit better as I’ve realised that this is partly about how awesome I feel when I am ‘strict’ this way but also because it’s a good exercise of self-discipline.
It’s not because I feel like I HAVE to do this or else it will impact my performance. That’s part of it, sure, but really, the difference in a given workout isn’t whether I had two or three glasses of wine on a random night in February. Probably I’d do better as a competitor if I quit my job and led a stress-free life, but that sure as hell isn’t going to happen. I’m doing it as an exercise of emotional control and that’s why I have nightmares in which I, horror, consume a cocktail to get over nerves. Weird.
Not weird, though, because as much as I can be disciplined, I can also be extraordinarily un-disciplined. If I have one drink, I’ll probably have five. If I have one cookie, I’ll probably have ten. Best just to abstain, sometimes, especially when that old pre-frontal cortex is tired.
Well, there will be some drinking in London in June post-Regionals. I also decided that I’m going to take a mini-European vacation then because damned if I’m ever going  to take leave if I don’t just decide to do it. I bet I can do some awesome blue sky thinking while drinking espresso in the cafes of Marseilles or Seville or Lisbon or Barcelona. Or Athens or Alexandria or Istanbul. The right place will come to me. Europe. How romantic.
I’m right now nostalgic about the spring ephemerals of New England: the trilliums & Dutchmans breeches & wild ginger & bloodroot. There is just something about the place I grew up that is absolutely magical and that will stay with me forever, no matter where I am living.
I have definitely been struggling with consistently putting it all out there at CrossFit lately. I think there are two reasons for this. Firstly, my job. I’m not making excuses, and I’m trying to get enough sleep, but that ambient stress really does take it out of you. Secondly, I’m busy trying to fix my technique. My deadlifts have never been good; Grant is literally deconstructing and re-constructing my clean, my pullups aren’t very efficient, I need to go deeper on my squats. Oh and then there’s those double-unders.
So you have a workout and you must choose between form & intensity and lately I’ve been choosing form (usually, at least…). Which I think is the right choice for me right now but it feels like a bit of a cop-out, like I’m not actually trying my hardest, and just decent isn’t actually good enough. It’s time for one of those workouts where form doesn’t REALLY come into play and you just have to keep going. You know, like 7 minutes of burpees.
But you know, it’s cool when something  finally clicks. What I love about Grant’s coaching, or at least Grant’s coaching of me, is that he not only shows what but explains the biomechanics of why. And he’s patient. You know it’s not in any way a pleasant thing to have someone completely change your form on a technical lift you’ve been doing for nearly three years. But at least I’m motivated.
Love this concept: ‘The only two people you should ever compare yourself to is the person you used to be and the person you want to be.’
I love it more in the abstract, though, because I’m far from it. I wish I wasn’t, but I’m still the one who gets annoyed at shocking movement standards that I see around me. When, really, why do I care? It’s one thing in competition when you can, rightly, be annoyed if the same movement standards aren’t being applied to everyone. But in the normal gym why do I care if someone’s chin isn’t over the bar on her pullups or half the people are either doing snaking pushups or not even touching the ground?
Meh. I’m not perfect. But I am a pretty damn good strategist.
I had this other insight this week. I’m all worried about creating sustainable competitive advantage, which of course you want to do to the degree possible. But it’s not always possible. It may not matter, however. You can copy where I’ve been. You can’t copy where I’m going, unless you can copy my brain and my team. Good luck with that one.
  • “Sometimes … you just don’t listen to the truth.” – Riaan
  • “Oh, so you know what type approval is? That puts you ahead of [someone who should know better.]” – Ellie
  • “I grew maggots already since the last time I saw you but I had bacterial contamination so I had to restart it.” – Riaan
  • “As soon as I’m back we’re going to lock you up in the chamber.” – Riaan (not what it sounds like)
  • “Luckily they were all nerds so it was OK.” – Ellie (not what it sounds like)
  • “That’s why this is the perfect lift.” – Grant


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