Archive for September, 2013

The pursuit of perfect

perfectionSo many people spend all day in search of perfect.

We’ve been trained to ever since the first grade. To get a 100% of our fractions quiz. The get every answer right on our spelling test.  Make no mistakes so you can get an A in the class.

Years later nothing has changed.  Instead of fractions now people spend their days making better slides. Rewriting their legal memos. Drafting email after email. And trying at all costs to avoid making mistakes in things that aren’t even critical.

But often times, you work is far better when you don’t focus on being perfect.

Facebook has the motto, done is better than perfect. Because early stage companies have to get a lot of things done. McKinsey talks a lot about the 80/20 rule. How getting 80% right is more than enough. And Seth Godin talks a lot about “shipping” products. He says sometimes you have to ship when the project is good enough. He says the definition of “good enough” is “Good.” “Enough.”

Even the best artwork in the world isn’t perfect. Think about it. Some of the best Art has defects. Colors outside the lines. Or has edges that are crooked. That’s what makes it unique.

Sometimes perfection is what you want. You want a computer that doesn’t freeze on you. A car that looks beautiful. And a job application that is mistake free.  On the other hand, some of the most remarkable companies and people in the world do things that are not perfect.

Something worth considering.

Sunday, September 29th, 2013 Business School No Comments

The quit card

quitOne of the toughest questions that comes up, is when to use the quit card.

There are two things I like to think about when deciding whether or not to use a quit card.

First, quitting is usually underrated.  Most of us have done it a lot.  We don’t still take tennis lessons or still play the saxophone.  Or we stopped talking to the girl who didn’t have enough time for us.  Along the way, we quit and things may have worked out for the better.

Second, often times, we quit the wrong things at the wrong time. We quit our daily gym routine right before it becomes a habit. We quit running during the marathon. But not at mile 2, but at mile 22 when we were almost done. And we quit working hard in our jobs right before the promotion was about to come in.

So the question is how do we decipher between the two?

The problem is that the longer we wait, the more expensive quitting is. We’ve already spent more  time and money on our work. We’re already more emotionally  invested. And we already lost time where we could have done something else.

In the end, maybe we should use our quit card more early and often. And maybe we shouldn’t start unless we know we can finish. And unless we’re willing to risk it all emotionally.

On the other hand, perhaps we should also stick it out when it’s worth the time. And when staying put will give us an opportunity to change everything.

Just a thought.

Friday, September 27th, 2013 Business School No Comments

The higher the stakes

MJthe higher the fear. That’s what makes some decisions so difficult.

Think about it.  When you go to lunch and have decide between two meals, the decision is simple. Because no one really cares if lunch is bad because you get the chance to try again tomorrow.

On the other hand, when you have two jobs offers out of business school and both give you clear but different prospects of success then for most people it feels impossible to choose.  Or when you finally have a chance to leave your six figure law firm job to finally launch your start up. The stakes are high because leaving behind financial freedom just to fail feels terrifying.

This is why people avoid high stakes decisions whenever they can. Because the fear of failure is too great. The problem is high stakes projects are the most important type. Because high stakes projects are normally the best way to change everything.

In the end, it’s not the change that’s the hard part,  it’s the fear.  So we either have to figure out how to address where the fear comes from or just learn to look at it in the eye and walk side by side with it.

Both are really hard but very good choices.

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013 Business School No Comments

Front the fear

fearYour first meeting with a client can set the stage for the entire consulting project.  The first week selling a new product usually determines whether a customer will ever make a purchase.   The first few minutes after meeting that special someone can make all the difference in the end.  But not because you put on a show and impressed a few people.  But because you did the hard stuff first.

Problem is, most people do just the opposte.  They don’t want to discuss things like price and timing with their client.  They avoid the hardest decisions on hoping it will all work out in the end. They hide the possible dealbreakers from the new girl, hoping the topic never comes up.  And they go work at a big consulting firm or bank out of school rather than just becoming an entrepreneur.

But really, you are more likely to waste their time if you wait and bring it up at the last minute.  Because the cost to change gets higher. And your ability and willingness to bring up the topic gets harder and harder.

That’s what fronting the fear is about.  You learn how to front load the stuff that you don’t want to do so you can get past it early.

So if your life goal is to be an entrepreneur, the hardest part of the journey isn’t getting a job at McKinsey or working at a top 20 law firm.  The hardest part is watching your classmates make six figure salaries while you live paycheck to paycheck.  That’s why you have to front the fear. If you become an entrepreneur first, then everyday after gets easier and easier.  You get more and more clients. And eventually you see a path to stability.

On the other hand if you do the easy stuff first–if you deal with the errands and clear the table rather than just doing it now–then 5 years later, your salary is a lot harder to give up.  You’ve taken on more costs than ever before.  And now, more and more people are watching and expect it to work.  Under this scenario, odds are, you won’t be turning into an entrepreneur any time soon.

So, if you have a new project, new career or new job in mind,  try doing the hard stuff first. Stuff that’s scary. Things that might not work. Stuff that embarrasses you.  Because even if it does not work, at least you’ll know. And if it does work, then path to get there will be a whole lot faster.

Easier said than done. But worth a shot.

Monday, September 16th, 2013 Business School No Comments

New beginnings

NewPeople all over the world crave new beginnings.  But ironically, most people also do everything they can to avoid them.

The lawyer who slaves away at her job for an extra few years because she likes her salary and doesn’t know what to do next.  The middle manager who is comfortable with the day to day routine which he thinks he can’t find anywhere else. Or the aspiring journalist who chooses to stay at a big company instead of working in the small town in Iowa for the chance to finally make it on air.  This is because new beginnings are hard and uncertain.

But new beginnings are also the best opportunity you have to change everything. They give you a sense of hope and rebirth. They remind you that more in the world is possible if we just look up.  And they remind you how good you are the moment you break out of your routine.

That’s why we celebrate them on new years and new birthdays.  It’s why we get excited to start over in school again, or start a new job after school.  It’s what makes entrepreneurs excited to wake up each and every day.

The ability to do something for the first time. To chance to tackle the problem that everyone else said would not work.

Every day in yoga, we approach our practice  the same way: with a beginner’s mind. We start every class in “childs pose” and we take our first breath and put our feet down on the mat for the first time.  You don’t know how class will go.  And sometimes you feel sore, tired, and nervous you might not finish.  But every day, you take the first breath, concentrate and more often than not, you not only make it through the hard part, but you also make more progress than you ever imagined.  That’s why so many people keep going back.

In short, new beginnings sometimes give you the opportunity to change everything.

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013 Careers, Entrepreneurship, Leadership 1 Comment

Connecting the dots

DotsAs a lucky graduate of the Stanford class of 2005, I got to hear the great Steve Jobs speech about connecting the dots. It got me thinking ….

… do we emphasize the value of learning how to connect the dots enough?

In my view, the answer is No.  Instead, we emphasize questions like, how many facts  do you have memorized? How many answers did you get correct? And how many hours did you bill last year? And we determine a person’s intelligence and value based on that.

So we don’t spend nearly enough time teaching people how to “connect” the dots. We don’t teach law students how to leverage their intuition. Or MBAs how how to see things from a 10,000 foot view. Or managers how to see the story from connecting seemingly unconnected events.

We can’t teach connecting dots in a Dummies” Guide and we don’t have a handbook at work to show us how to do it.  We can only do it, by putting people in new situations where they look around, try new things, get more experiences and fail more often than they want to.

And in the end, this experience failing is more important than than the number of answers you got right.  Memorizing facts won’t help you make change but having vision in the face of  uncertainty might give you an opportunity to change everything.

We need to spend more time helping people to connect the dots.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013 Business School No Comments

Counting sheep

Sheep_walking_down_roadYou’ve probably encountered someone who does it. And no, I don’t mean at night when falling asleep.

Counting sheep is what most people do. They lull themselves to sleep everyday by halfheartedly working in jobs they don’t care about. And as a result, they never do the work they are capable of.

The customer service person who reads the company handbook over and over but never stop to actually answer your question or connect you to the right person. The corporate lawyer who files paperwork with the state but never actually stops to help the client with the hard work of getting the business problem fixed.  A vice president who spends millions of dollars on new products, even though she knows they won’t get sold, all because it’s part of her job description.

MBAs and JDs starting all the way back in grad school.  They take the same classes and recruit for the same high-paying jobs every year because everyone else in the class did the same thing.  That’s because it’s easier to put your head down, fit in and find a good job that pays a salary every two weeks like everyone else than to go out on a limb.

On the other hand, it’s people who aren’t counting sheep that are really making a dent in the world. Like the CEO of Zappos who is willing to spend as much time as needed on the phone with customers even though everyone said it wouldn’t work because it costed too much.  The CEO of Starbucks who is willing to change the entire culture of an organization even though it didn’t make sense at the time. A famous politician in New Jersey who is willing to film his losing campaign for city council and years later go on the SNAP diet to show the world what his district looks like, even though people didn’t like it.

If you can find a way to get more with with non-sheep behavior that’s where the good stuff happens. People who are brave enough to look at status quo and say “I don’t agree”. And innovators who are brave enough to say “I am willing to go the other direction”.

What if the world had a lot more people who acted just like that?

Sunday, September 8th, 2013 Business School No Comments

Meeting my readers

blog-readersI don’t do it often as I want, but I really enjoy meeting my readers.

I’ve had the chance to meet many of them. In Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, New York and the Bay. But also in countries like Kenya.

Today, I had the chance to meet one of my favorite readers. We’ve been trying to meet up for a few weeks and it finally happened.

He just graduated college and had a lot of really great energy, not to mention questions about the world. He came prepared with a list of questions, but we didn’t get to most of them.

I think that meeting my readers remains one of the best ways to help hear more about the things students and professionals are thinking about and what their stories are. What they think about work, how they think about grad school and education, and what impact they want to make in their lifetime.

It also helps me hear about the things they fear.  The fear of making sales calls, fear of getting rejected and fear of failing at what they do.  And so I like to talk a lot about how to overcome that.  We come up with plans so they can see a path to figuring out how to make it more likely that they will succeed.

But here’s the real secret.  The hard is part isn’t defining the path or coming up with a plan, that’s the easy part. Unfortunately, it’s the part most consultants and advisors focus on.  The hard part is doing the scary thing of taking a stand and sticking to the path.  And so that’s where I like to focus. And it made for a really fun conversation today.

If any of you are interested in chatting, please let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

But before you  write, check out Education Matters Project.  Most people I talk to tend to want to support the cause by sharing their story about why education matters to them.

Saturday, September 7th, 2013 Careers, Education, Leadership No Comments

Nothing is for everyone

NotForEveryoneYou know this but you ignore it every single time.  And you always find out the hard way.

If you’re fundraising for Catholic Extension in Chicago, you have to ask yourself, why does it matter what the atheist next door thinks about your phone strategy?

If you’re a marketing executive at Target, why does it matter what loyal shoppers at Neiman Marcus think about your new products?

Or if you’re applying to college from the poorest schools in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the world, then why are you trying to please the admissions committees from colleges who don’t care about your story.

We all know this but we always seem to forget, that nothing is for everyone.

Think about it. The vast majority of people in the world have never sat in a Starbucks and never used an Android.  Likewise the vast majority of people in many parts of Asia do not have indoor plumming.  The numbers show this very clearly.  Just because you have it, doesn’t mean everyone else does.  And the sooner we understand this, the more time we can spend focusing on ways to have more impact in the world by pleasing the people who do care.

In the end, you’re more likely to succeed if you say, this is what I stand for. And this is what I believe. If it’s not for you, then I’ll find the other people who believe in my story.

In short, ignore the skeptics. And spend more with the people that believe.

Friday, September 6th, 2013 Careers, Education, Entrepreneurship, Leadership No Comments

MBA Mondays: Financial audits

auditOn Mondays, sometimes I like to discuss business topics when I have the chance.

MBA Mondays is an idea I got from Fred Wilson.  The issue this Monday is financial audits. I have been thinking about audits recently, since we spend a lot of time going through them for deals that we work on.

See below for a few short tidbits on a financial audit.

What? A financial audit is an audit of a financial statement.  An audit means the verification of the accuracy (e.g. truth) and reasonableness of the financial statements.  The audits usually (but not always) result in an opinion band the opinion is intended to assure various parties that the financial statements are fair and that they give a fair view of the company based upon the accounting standards.

Are they a guarantee? No. An audit is intended to provide reasonable assurance, but it does not give a guarantee.

Who? Audits are usually done by audit firms. These are firms with licensed accountants who are experts in the field. They are almost always independent third parties.

Why? An audit (and the opinion) is intended to assure various parties that the financial statements are true and reasonable.  More specifically, it is intended to ensure that the company is not doing anything that is materially misleading its filings. This is why it is done by an independent third party.

Why does it matter?  These can be important in transactional work. In any sort of transaction, one company usually needs to be valued, because it is being sold or acquired, or its stock is being sold or acquired.  In order to value a company, a buyer and seller should understand things like assets and liabilities, cash and cash equivalents, property and equipment, and the short and long term debt of the company, among other things. Financial statements presented by the company have these numbers, thus the financial audit are important to help prove that the numbers the company gave are reasonably correct.

Layman’s Terms:  Think about it like your tax return.  You could purposefully put misleading information in to save money ever year. Moreover, even if you try to get it right, you may accidentally still get things wrong or mislead the readers. In many cases, the government will do an audit, to make sure what you submitted is correct.  That’s why tax firms will often audit the forms first, to make sure everything passes the test of reasonableness.

Keep in mind that this is the short version. The audits can become quite a bit more complicated than this.

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Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 Business School, MBAMondays No Comments

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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