The industrial era taught us as employees to wait around for someone to tell us what to do. Hell, the contemporary education model taught us that. We spent the better part of our lives under the pressure of other people’s deadlines, rubrics and expectations. As we get older and “treated like adults,” people tell us what to do less and less. In life, at home and in the workplace, very few people will babysit you or outline a clear path for your success. It’s up to you to do both of those things.
If no one is setting expectations for you, outline your own and hold yourself accountable. If you’re unemployed and single, you have no choice but to do this (until of course the feds knock at your door). If you’re employed and getting no love from your supervisor, take a chance on that lack of structure to build your own world. If you’re not yet buried in a bureaucratic mess of paperwork and process, build your own. Strategize your own roadmap for success.
How do you think people build huge businesses from scratch? They unlearned to wait for other people to set expectations for them and did their own thing when and how they wanted to. They found a way to give a damn on their own terms.
While writing will always be open to interpretation, it’s far less open to interpretation than body language, reactions, passing comments, whispers on the wind, moral values, historical precedent or anything else equally abstract under the communication umbrella. Laws are not common unspoken understandings between citizens and the courts; laws live on paper in writing. Life at home, operations at your organization or cooperation in your community often improve when words grace the page.
If you hope to bring clarity to a situation, put it on paper. Outline it on paper. Announce it on paper. Rules, feedback, expectations, values and goals all work better when written and preserved. They become real. Sure, words can be misunderstood or interpreted in many ways. The best writers learn to use this to their advantage. When it comes to clarity in writing, less is more – with fewer words (specifically adjectives), there’s less room for wandering interpretations. Memos are good. Assumptions are bad. Dialogue without recording serves no concrete or lasting purpose. It disappears and distorts. The written word by itself does not distort.
People criticize or applaud others regularly and seem to forget that human beings are defensive creatures. They will criticize or applaud you back. If they cannot return the favor directly, they’ll find another way – often behind backs. It’s only human.
If you feel entitled to give feedback, you should be willing to receive it. Take that notion a step further: dish out feedback expecting to get some back. Managers do themselves a disservice by sitting high and mighty over direct reports that have no forum to return the feedback favor. I mean to call it a “favor” because employees have great insight into their boss’s management style that could seriously help the manager grow and improve. When feedback is a one way street that only cascades downhill, the genuine reciprocation of ideas and flow of information that helps a machine accelerate forward collapses. Honesty, inspiration and purpose all suffer when the feedback loop breaks (or never existed in the first place).
Better for you and your customers to tackle problems you have experience with. If you come from nowhere with no expertise in the sandbox you want to play in, you’re at a severe disadvantage because you cannot directly empathize with your customers out of the gate and need to spend that much more time on research to catch up. You’re behind before you begin.
What problems have you suffered in life and have educated theories strong enough to beat them? If you move forward without an underlying passion to solve a personal problem, what then will continue to fuel your fire? How can you possibly stay excited about an idea you have no emotional attachment to – a problem you do not understand?
I’m not telling you not to stretch yourself. And I’m definitely not telling you to skip the research altogether and go for what you know. Understand, however, that jumping into a business blind comes with much higher risk and a harder path to pave. One in ten million people get lucky building something they do not understand and making a business out of it. Press your luck to be the one or press your experience to build something you care about instead.
If you hardwire flexibility into your core company values, it will make things much easier to pivot later when you need to. Make a point to mix things up as much as possible. A new office layout, random events and shifting roles can keep things fresh for your team and prepare them for bigger changes when they come. Build an environment where everyone can comfortably go with the flow and you might actually survive a major company transition.
You cannot cure a disease by suppressing its symptoms. A quick fix will not make things better down the road. Do your research, break down the constituent parts and interview everyone involved. Understand why something is happening. Find the when, where, why, who and how. Do not be afraid of the answer. Accept the possibility that the cause of the problem may be yourself or someone close to you. When you find out, solve it. Make big changes. Whatever it takes.
“I’ve got good news and bad news.” “Oh yeah?” “Yeah, which do you want first?”
Always start with the bad news and save the best for last. It will always be more difficult for people to get over the sour news (most people dwell on bad stuff longer than good stuff), so the best thing you can do is end with the good news and hope for a softer blow overall. By ending with the good news, you stand a chance to inspire solutions, optimism or even an antidote to the bad news.