- Respect and support my family and close friends.
- Nothing is more important than health.
- Live life for today, and cherish each moment.
- Love exists, and it's worth a lot of work.
- Optimism is the best attitude; there is always room for hope, and a positive demeanor can lift spirits.
- Show your talents through behavior; be modest in your words but not your actions.
- Strive for perfection and optimization, but be wary of premature optimization, and be ok with satisficing when it doesn't really matter. (It feels sort of zen/yoga-ish to strive towards opposite, impossible goals, but that's what creates growth.)
- Keep myself and others to the highest standards.
- Learn to accept myself as enough.
- Follow through on each and every promise.
- Never miss an opportunity to be fabulous.
- There is something to be learned from each and every living creature. There are many people in the world who are so vastly different from me, and that's cool.
- There is way more that I don't know than I know, and there is way more that I don't even know that I don't know than I know.
- Never discriminate or jump to conclusions; there are always multiple possible explanations, and I should acknowledge my many natural and unavoidable biases and consciously keep them in mind.
- I can do anything with the right effort and the right people.
- Money is earned so it can be spent, not hoarded. It should be enjoyed for what it can produce. It is earned only so it can be spent on things that make you or others happy (including by giving it away). It is only a means to an end; learning, growth, health, improving the lives of others, family, and happiness are the bigger goals in life.
Inspired by the author of The Happiness Project, I decided to write down my own top personal commandments that came to mind quickly. I'm sure this list will change over time, and it'll be interesting to see how that happens.
Steve Soboroff recently spoke at my leadership and ethics class led by Mayor Riordan, and it was a fun, very personal discussion. Steve is a successful real estate developer and has worked as a land broker for many large shopping center deals. He was also pivotal to bringing Staples Center to LA.
His talk centered on an acrostic about the characteristics of leaders and effective people:
Earlier this quarter, Nancy Duarte spoke to us at UCLA Anderson about presentation design. She's the author of two great books on the subject: slide:ology and Resonate, and her firm designs presentations for extremely influential business leaders and politicians, in addition to teaching people how to design impactful slides.
She started her talk with a personal story about herself and then gave us a debrief on what she just did. She explained the structure of her introductory story as a structure we can use for any story meant to grasp people's attention:
She said that PowerPoint should not be an exhaustive report; it should be visual and persuasive. You can save the details for handouts to give people at the end.
If you have to give a report, give an executive summary, distribute it as a document, let the audience read it, and then just discuss as human beings. That's a lot better than cramming numbers in a PowerPoint. Only project visuals that are mnemonic for the audience to remember your message, not for you to remember what to say.
Start your presentation with a unique point of view and the stakes for the audience. Incorporate story to show the transformation of a hero from beginning to end. This can apply to business presentations where a team that performs an analysis and comes up with a result can be the hero.
To bring it to a more subtle level, she argues the presenter is actually not the hero; the audience is the hero. The presenter's role is that of mentor or yoda.
She spent months studying dramatic story structure from classic Greek dramas to the most effective speeches of all time (MLK, Gandhi, Neru, Steve Jobs). She studied the visual/emotional shape of story to come up with a sine wave representing going back and forth between "what is now" and "what could be." She says this is the secret to taking your audience on a ride with you through your speech. Her argument definitely seemed persuasive to me.
She broke down every second of Steve Jobs' iPhone launch PowerPoint that she worked on and pointed out his strategies to us. She pointed out how he literally marveled at his own product and modeled the emotion he wanted his audience to feel. The "star" moment was something they'll always remember: when he turned on the iPhone for the first time and showed scrolling.
Jobs mentioned Wayne Gretzky in his speech, quoting "skate to where puck is going to be, not where it has been."
From MLK and Neru's speeches, we learned about the use of metaphor, repetition, political reference, scripture, and emotions.
In terms of connecting to audiences, Duarte's happy that people can now give live feedback on Twitter as they're listening to good or bad speakers. She advocates addressing hostile reactions explicitly in one's talk in order to inoculate them.
She spent some time also describing her creative process. She first storyboards everything with Post It's that she can then move around. She does this to find holes. Then she just puts the Post It's into PowerPoint.
Some useful links:
Overall, the talk was useful, and as a personal lover of clean, simple, visual slide design, I definitely enjoyed meeting Nancy and hearing her speak.
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." --Aristotle
This is the last post in my "professionalism" series for now. I might come back to this topic in the future, but I wanted to conclude with a few techniques that are purely about your own preparation and diligence as a professional rather than about your interactions with others.
My other posts dealt mostly with the subject of respect in interpersonal professional communications. Being organized, responsible, and doing what you promised were all important elements of that.
But the core of being a successful professional lies in not only how you work with others but how you do the actual work itself. This involves constantly learning new things, remembering how to do your work correctly and in a timely manner, and presenting it in a way that is acceptable and understandable to your audience.
This sounds simple, but there are many pitfalls to doing this consistently. I'd like to point out three main categories of pitfalls or techniques that resonate strongly with me or that frustrate me a lot when I have to deal with them being done poorly by others.
Information should be Consistent, Correct, and Fresh
At AMA Capital, I had the opportunity to work with a lot of different brokerage firms and international trading companies. They would send me documentation of how their systems and APIs worked, and we would rely on that information to trade with them or engage in some sort of business deal.
We quickly learned that 9 times out 10, the information provided always had some (significant) flaw. I don't expect perfection out of other people or businesses, but I expect the only mistakes or omissions made to be insignificant ones. Instead, we would consistently find that information was copied and pasted incorrectly and without modification, major details were excluded, and certain clear parameters were defined completely wrong. And this happened across many different companies we worked with.
This obviously made us quite distrustful of what anyone told us and taught us to have the mentality that we always need to discover for ourselves how something works rather than relying on someone's word. On the one hand this may be a decent practice, but it's also pretty sad and inefficient.
The three major areas of mistakes that we kept seeing (and which I wish professionals would improve at) were the following:
Be an Expert and Amateur at the Same Time
The first part of this tip is obvious, but the second part may not be.
The first part says that you should aim to be an expert in your field. This means doing your work carefully and staying up-to-date on industry news, blogs, etc. For example, I read the Wall Street Journal on a daily basis, the Economist weekly, three different futures or currency magazines on a weekly basis, and follow about 20 blogs through Google Reader. Most of my reading is skimming, but I fully read articles that catch my attention or seem relevant to something I care about.
An important part of being an expert and being responsible with one's knowledge is knowing where that knowledge ends. When someone asks me for help with something I don't know, I volunteer to them that I don't know and explain whom we should talk to or how we can go about finding that information. This shows a level of humility to the other person (that I know where my knowledge stops) and makes them confident in the things that I tell them I do know about. This is much better than always giving your best guess and having people think that you know how to guess but can often be wrong.
The second part of this tip is cultivating the "beginner's mind." This is a term that Shunryo Suzuki-Roshi, a Zen master, wrote about. In essence, this means considering yourself an amateur at all times and willing to learn new information and change your preconceptions or world views. By being more open in this way, it will be easier to take in new ideas and ways of working, which will allow you to grow much more effectively throughout your life.
Finally, I will end this post with some thoughts on language, grammar, and why they matter.
I am always paying attention to the style of a message in addition to its content, and so does everyone else (even if not consciously). For me, noticing many spelling mistakes and grammatical errors makes me question how careful and educated the writer is. Even if I know they learned grammar in school and may even remember it, the fact that they can't take the time to proofread or consider which punctuation or spelling makes sense in a given situation shows me they are not careful with details and cannot be trusted to complete a job all the way themselves. Of course, I easily forgive occasional typos or small grammatical mistakes, but if they happen all the time, I get worried.
I'm sure people will argue that little things like commas and apostrophes don't change the course of the world. Most of the time they're right, and it's just about care for detail. However, in some contexts, such as legal documents or email communications in business negotiations, using ambiguous words or forgetting some punctuation can drastically alter how others understand what you write.
Therefore, I think it's always prudent to be careful with grammar and language, even in very informal contexts like Facebook and Twitter. Sure, you can use abbreviations and online-speak, but make sure you're clear, and sometimes, a comma is really worth that 1 character out of 140.
A book I particularly enjoyed reading a few years ago about all this is Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. It's for people who already know grammar but are always confused about certain things like where to put the apostrophe on words that end with "s" (no, it's not always at the end of the word), when semicolons or dashes are appropriate, and when capitalization is required or not required.
I hope you've enjoyed reading this small series of posts, and continue to let me know what you think (and if you have suggestions for future topics).
It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath. --Aeschylus
I've been attending many networking events recently and pushing myself to improve in this important business function. I'm naturally a more quiet, shy person, so getting out there and really making strong connections to new people takes a lot of effort and discipline on my behalf.
I've been learning many sides to doing this properly, such as overcoming shyness and proper voice and presentation skills. I've also been reading some of the famous networking books, like Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty. The information below comes from a variety of sources and my own synthesizing to bring out what matters most to me when I aim to interact effectively with others and how I enjoy others interacting with me.
A lot of my own inertia when it comes to networking is a result of nerves or shyness. I see others talking, and I feel like I shouldn't intrude. A second source of insecurity comes from wondering what to talk about.
A great way to get over both of these points and to be genuinely present in the moment when approaching others is having a strong sense of curiosity -- for the other person, their background, their skills, and any serendipitous connections that can result from your meeting them. You can be curious about where they come from, what difficulties they've overcome, and also how you fit in with their life, such as if you can help them in some way or give them some important advice. I honestly believe that there is something unique, special, and significant about every single human being out there and that every person (and animal) can teach me something useful that I didn't know before. This makes it easy for me to enjoy spending time with people who may not be of any "value" to me now but whom I can simply get to know and learn about and someday perhaps give assist or be assisted by.
By coming from the position of being really interested in meeting and learning as much as you can about all other people around you, it will be much easier to approach them and find topics of conversation.
Note that this is often not the way even gregarious networkers approach the situation. Often people come to meet you who are only interested in learning whether you are "high up" and can somehow help them, or if you have something they need. This frame of mind leads to a much poorer conversation and leaves a much worse taste in the other person's mouth. By coming instead from a frame of mind of curiosity, giving, and reciprocity, you can have a much more enjoyable and effective conversation.
I'm sure everyone has had this happen to them: You meet someone new at a cocktail reception; you ask them about themselves and listen carefully; then they ask you about your background, and as soon you start speaking, they are looking around the room and not hearing a word you're saying. It's extremely frustrating and a waste of time and breath. I've caught myself looking around the room at times and always stop myself when I notice this. At those moments, I ask myself why it is that I'm looking around and whether it's something about my not wanting to talk to this person or my being interested in something else. As soon as I realize that there is a lot to be curious about in the other person, I can quickly snap back and pay attention without interruption from that point on.
The most common reason why I might start paying less attention to someone is if I don't understand a lot about what they're talking about. If someone is talking about something that's interesting to me or about my field or career, I won't have trouble paying attention. Instead of letting my attention wander when it's a subject I don't know much about (or terminology I'm not familiar with), I can use the opportunity to learn about something new and ask questions. There is the fear of looking stupid by asking a dumb question, but I think it's much better to show interest, even if on a basic/naive level about a new field, than to stop paying attention.
Paying attention to someone through active listening, eye contact, repeating what you've understood or heard, not interrupting, and asking intelligent questions afterward is an essential type of respect in all interactions.
This point can be boiled down to "just do what you promise." It is similar to the points I made about phone calls and emails: when you tell someone you will do something, just do it.
This is especially important when networking. A big part of networking is helping each other, and it's very hard to help someone or feel dependable if you make too many commitments or just forget to follow through. When you meet someone whom you can genuinely help, it's not only your responsibility to offer them assistance but to also see to it that you help them and contact them after the event is through.
As soon as I get someone's business card, if I owe them anything or have any further questions or things to discuss, I note it down on their card (or in my phone). Then, when I get home, I shoot off the necessary emails or set up the right tasks on my to-do list (in addition to adding them to my contact list). With so few people who follow up thoroughly after meetings, you can really set yourself apart by being proactive in this regard and showing people that you care.
If the phone doesn't ring, it's me. --Jimmy Buffett
This post is about phone etiquette, and it should hopefully be shorter and simpler than my previous posts. A lot of the ideas in here seem somewhat obvious, but many people pay little attention to them, and it causes phone communication with them to be slow and painful.
In today's world, a lot of communication is happening by phone calls. Emailing and text messaging seem to be replacing more and more phone calls, but there is still nothing that comes close to a phone call in connecting two people emotionally and intellectually who cannot be in the same room (or video conference). By showing respect on the phone, the feeling will go much deeper and will be thus be much more strongly received, purely based on the direct, real-time mechanism of the phone call itself.
I've gathered my top five thoughts/tips on phone etiquette below as they are the ones that frustrate me the most when I'm on the receiving end and the tips are not followed.
I'm not sure if my word count was lower today, but I hope it was. Please leave me any comments or questions (or feel free to call if it'll be more than one back-and-forth :-) ).
I don't believe in email. I'm an old-fashioned girl. I prefer calling and hanging up. --Sarah Jessica Parker
There are lots of articles out there on standard email etiquette. By this point in human civilization's adoption of email technology, most people know the basics: don't use all caps, be careful with reply all, check your spelling, etc. This is pretty obvious stuff, and while there are still many, many perpetrators out there against these basic rules, most professionals have got them down.
There are, however, more subtle issues that so many real professionals still get "wrong" that I want to flesh out here. All of the issues below I have personally experienced countless times with medium- and high-level professionals from major organizations around the world. I have also heard so many of my friends and colleagues vent about the same frustrations, so these problems seem pretty universal.
Before I go into the actual problems or issues themselves, I will acknowledge that there are obviously reasons why people fall into these traps.Yes, they're extremely busy. Yes, they get 500 emails per day. Yes, messing up or not acknowledging a small part of your email request is not a big deal. However, I would argue that it's better to respond to emails a bit more slowly (while giving notice/setting appropriate expectations) and in a more respectful, professional manner than to answer emails in 10 seconds from a BlackBerry and completely miss a point in a client's request.
My grandfather has a Russian expression he loves to use for this type of behavior. It's transliterated as, "Tapi Lapi." I don't know of an equivalent expression in English, but it basically means doing things haphazardly and quickly just to get them out of the way without taking care to do them correctly and thoughtfully.
OK, enough background. Here are the main categories of issues and corresponding tips that I want to flesh out.
By being more prompt, complete, and clear with your emails, you'll show a high level of respect to the people you work with and will deal with your email and resulting work in a much more efficient and effective manner.
Better three hours too soon, than one minute too late. --William Shakespeare
Many people like to equate time with money. There is a lot of truth to that notion, such as the time value of money, being able to use one's time to earn money, opportunity costs, and so forth. I think many of these concepts make sense when the issue is between a person and a project, such as an investment decision or a question of how I allocate my time and resources among many different projects.
However, when the issue is between two people, I think an additional useful notion is, "Time Is Respect."
At the most basic level, what I mean by this phrase is that being punctual and showing consideration for people's time is a form of basic respect. Even small dents in this respect can, over time and many instances, erode a relationship considerably.
When two people choose to work together, there are actually three entities involved: the two individuals and the one project. If either person feels disrespected, even slightly, the project is likely to suffer. In addition, it is rare that two people in this world who collaborate or work together will only do so once. In fact, many people hope to build relationships and friendships that can be mutually beneficial over people's entire lifetimes. Therefore, it's likely that the long-term damage to the relationship caused by disrespect will be a lot more harmful than the short-term damage to productivity on the current project at hand.
Here's an example: Two professionals meet up to research a new business idea. One of them is late several times by a few minutes, and that slowly becomes the normal course of affairs. While they may not get as much done on their current project as they would like, the person who is always waiting will slowly lose faith in his or her colleague and will be less likely, even if subconsciously, to want to work with that colleague again on other projects in the future.
Some people might say, "Who cares? It's just five minutes. Chill-ax." Sure. It is just five minutes. For some ultra-busy professionals, every five minutes counts. For moderately busy people, I think the effect is still important as five minutes at each weekly meeting, for example, can quickly add up to a lot of lost productivity, loneliness, and subconscious dissatisfaction with the other person.
I often hear of various groups of people or races or entire countries where the culture is one of lateness. People say things like, "The party started at 7? Oh, he's on ______ Standard Time" (fill in the blank with your own race/background). I think that in certain situations lateness is not that big of a deal, like in some social gatherings where it's explicit that no actual special events will happen for a matter of hours. However, I think it's important for everyone to know this ahead of time and agree. If hosts of parties were more explicit in telling everyone when the party will open versus when important events (like a seated dinner) will actually happen, then more guests are likely to be on time when it matters. Nonetheless, I still think that blaming tardiness on race or culture is just an easy excuse because if there weren't others in that culture or group who were punctual, the entire conversation about why someone was late would never happen.
I'll close with some tips and some personal time management practices that help me be on time when it matters and also, as a side benefit, help me be more productive and efficient in getting my own work done. If others have suggestions of what works for them, I'd love to hear them.
Tips and Personal Practices
I've decided to start a new series of blog posts covering some of my thoughts on different topics of professionalism and etiquette. I'm certainly no expert in this, but it is something that I find myself thinking about and paying a lot of attention to, so I hope that some of my readers can learn something from (or at least find entertainment in) my stories and personal practices. Overall, I think the world would be a much better place if everyone was just a little more professional and respectful to each other.
Over the past few years, I've met many people who have given me good (and bad) examples of how to be (and not be) professional. I've also had the pleasure to read many books related to this subject (as well as etiquette in general). I remember a few months in particular during sophomore year at Stanford that were quite formative for me in this regard. Every single day during that period, I would eat lunch with my friends and then proceed alone to the Rare Books Collection in the library. I would don gloves and carefully read the University's only copy of The Courte of Civill Courtesie, a book written in the 16th century about etiquette. Here's its abstract for those who are curious and can decipher it:
"Fitly furnished with a pleasant porte of stately phrases and pithie precepts, assembled in the behalfe of all younge gentlemen and others that are desirous to frame their behaviour according to their estates at all times and in all companies, therby to purchase worthy prayse of their inferiours and estimation and credite amonge theyr betters."
Through this blog series, my aim is not really to educate or tell others how to behave, as I will forever consider myself a student in this regard. It is simply to vent about some frustrations I have when others are not professional and propose some methods and conventions that I adhere to and which hopefully others can adhere to a little bit more as well. I don't believe any of my thoughts along these lines are unique, but for those of my readers who don't have the time or interest to read 16th century literature or stacks of professionalism and self-help books, I hope I can distill some of the main lessons and strategies I've learned that I believe help me be more respectful and professional with everyone I encounter.
Here is a preview of some of the topics I will be covering. If anyone has suggestions or questions, I will be happy to respond to them in the comments.
I leave you with some food for thought:
"Manners maketh man." --William of Wykeham (1324 - 1404)