Category Archives: Career

Business School at Pier 39 San Francisco

What makes money? Is it hard work? Is it the type of work? Or is it how you work? (Hint: it’s how you work) Can you do it too? (Hint: yes) Learn how with three stories of street performers.

We begin with what not to do.

Hard work earns the least money. The street performer I saw make the least money did the hardest thing: he custom built a stage with 7 musical instruments so that he could play all 7 instruments at the same time. Why does this fail to make money? Let’s examine the performance in detail.

In the beginning, he is on a stage on a sidewalk, and no-one is in the audience. As tourists walk by, he runs up to them and personally tries to recruit them to stop walking and stand, wait, watch his show.
Most people reject him. This reaction makes sense because they don’t know who he is, and they don’t know why they should care, and they don’t know how much time they will lose if they stay.
Monkey see, monkey do. If you were walking down a sidewalk and you saw a man approaching people walking by him, and the people trying to ignore and get away from him, you would want to do the same when you get to him too. He is teaching you to ignore him through his failures.
We now reach our first lesson: market in a way that hides your failures. If you need 99 rejections to get one success, don’t let everyone know.

After a few minutes, he gets someone to stay. At this point he tells them to back up away from his platform. He then uses a gallon water bottle to pour a line onto the sidewalk that is 30 ft away from his platform, and he asks that the people who stopped to stand that far away because “more people will come and there won’t be enough space.”
He has an audience of 1 or 2 people, yet he’s telling them to back up 30 ft away from him. This is alienating, isolating, arrogant behavior in light of the fact that he is unproven at this point.

He then gets onto the stage, has some conversation and banter with the audience that is there. The conversation is dull: focused on ‘what are you doing, why are you here, and other facts.’ He then starts putting on the equipment and as he does, he starts telling a story. OK, story is better than facts. But the story has no emotion, no tension, no build up, no mystery. It’s just facts. It’s a history lesson.

Finally, he begins to play. He plays 2 songs that last a total of 3 minutes. Then he’s done. Total time for his performance
6 minutes to get the first audience member
5 minutes to converse and build a crowd
4 minutes to put on the equipment
3 minutes of performance
2 minutes to thank the crowd and ask for money
5 minutes for him to take a break

Here are all the problems with this
It’s a 25 minute show with only 3 minutes of performance.
At the end of the performance, everyone he has entertained will leave, so he retains no social proof. No-one from the last show stays to tell the newcomers how great he is.
He does 2 shows an hour. Earns roughly $15 an hour. And is only collecting money for 4 minutes out of the hour.

Don’t be like him.

Let’s see what kind of street performer makes more money!

Meeting people’s expectations provides a steady income. Literally the next street performer down the sidewalk from the instruments guy is a street magician.

Here are all the things he is doing right:
When I approach, I see a crowd of 50 or more people around. Social proof: if 50 people are willing to stop and watch, it must be good. I’m willing to stop and watch now too.
To find out what people are looking at, I have to invest time to get past the crowd and find a good angle to see the show. Because I’m investing up front, I’m more willing to stay because I want to be right about spending time to see the show.
It’s entertaining from the first second I lay eyes on him, and it stays entertaining the whole time. He never pauses the performance to ask for money. You see the box in front of him, you know what a street performer is, you go up and give money when you want to. He makes at least $60 an hour. His tricks are simple: ball and cup, rings, cards, scarf. Nothing you haven’t seen before. Nothing you couldn’t go out and buy the beginners guide to magic for and learn to do yourself.
He sets clear expectations, he meets your expectations, and he gives you complete freedom throughout. For his socially acceptable magician show that meets expectations, he earns a steady income.

Building suspense, managing the customer’s emotions, and delivering a memorable experience pays the most. This street performer made around $1000 per hour. This street performer talked for 20 minutes, and performed for 10 seconds. This performer asked for money 18 of those 20 minutes. This performer made me feel the best out of all 3 performers I watched. This performer made me feel good. This performer made me feel like I was involved in the performance, and that I was part of something special.
This performer made me feel good giving money. This performer never made giving money the focus of my attention for even a moment. I felt giving money was neither the reason for the performer to be there, nor the reason for me to be there, despite reality being the contrary.
The highest income builds suspense and engages you every moment and keeps your attention and interest while at the same time hustling you to get the most out of you as possible. How? How the heck did this performer work 10 seconds, and then entertain me as I gave money for 18 minutes and then made me feel good about giving money?

The Act: 3-5 guys, yelling, making noise, waving their arms and using expressive loud body language to attract attention and raise the energy level, showing excitement, passion, strength. They yell about how wonderful the performance is going to be, and about how lucky we are to be with them at this moment. They talk up everything they do, and they say things like “We want to take it to the next level, to make it even more awesome, even better, but we can only do that if somebody gives us another $100!” We are motivated and inspired and empowered to give money to create a better experience. The person who gives the money isn’t giving the money for their own selfish benefit, nor are they giving the money for the singular benefit of the performers: the person who gives the money gains approval from every single person in the audience for unlocking the ‘next level of entertainment’ for everybody else. The person who gives money is buying approval, appreciation, recognition, importance, value, entertainment, being a part of something, feeling like we’re all in this together, feeling special, being special.
Emotions and feelings that you can’t fake and you can’t get anywhere else with money alone. Where can you go to buy recognition? Where can you buy appreciation? Where can you buy importance? Where can you buy togetherness? And where can you buy these things not just from one person, but from an entire crowd of people?

The final act was extremely short, and extremely uninteresting: one guy jumps over a few people lying on the ground. There weren’t even that many people, and even though you knew they would probably succeed, you also knew there was a chance they might make a mistake, so the suspense and fear and risk of human life made the performance entertaining. As I left, even though I felt like they earned way too much money for 10 seconds of performing, I still felt good because the real performance was the 20 minutes leading up to the performance. I still felt good because the performance wasn’t the focus or the highlight: the audience was the focus, and I was part of the audience, and for 20 minutes I felt important.

Following this line of reasoning: The first performer established themselves as the most important person in the room, and made the least money. The second performer established themselves as important, but down to earth, and so made a reasonable amount of money. The last performer established themselves as the mediator for us the audience to realize that we were the most important people in the room, and for giving us a sense of achievement, self worth, and importance, we paid them everything we had.

Career Learnings

Here’s a list of things I’ve learned over the course of my career:

  • Timelines are affected by vacation and sick days. Anticipate that as well.
  • Say what you know instead of saying you know nothing. You always have some idea, communicate it so you can create a shared ground to start from together.
  • Do your own work well always.  Then involve yourself in further matters.  Otherwise if things go south you have nothing to stand on.
  • Never work for free, or in other words, always get buy in and approval before doing work. And make sure you get that buy in from the key stakeholders, not just anyone.

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Career Advice (General)

Career Advice: What are the real reasons some people get promoted and others don’t? A good answer on Quora: The content is copied below, and credit is due to the poster Ramkumar Balaraman:

In most organizations, promotions aren’t correlated with hard work or technical know-how. The only exceptions are high-impact independent contributors, such as salespersons, real estate agents, surgeons, etc., or very junior level jobs where you are still an individual contributor.

Other than such exceptions, the likelihood of promotions are usually determined by:

  1. How well you understand your boss’s goals. Most hard-working employees put in extra effort to excel at their assigned goals. For fast-track growth, you need to instead expend the minimum effort it takes to meet your goals, and then spend the extra time in understanding your boss’s goals and helping him/her meet them instead. Understanding your boss’s goals is sometimes as easy as asking him/her.
  2. Whether you’re talking to your ‘real boss’. Point [1] can sometimes backfire if you’re doing it for the wrong boss. Sometimes you join a promising job after interacting with a senior hiring manager, only to find yourself slotted under someone who is only one level above you and is still trying very hard to prove himself/herself. Your chances of a promotion are quite bleak in these situations, unless you ‘recruit’ someone higher up in the hierarchy to be your ‘real’ boss. However its also very important that you do not bypass your assigned boss or make him/her feel threatened when doing so. This means the only person you discuss your assigned goals and responsibilities with is your assigned boss. However, your ‘real boss’ is the one whose office you walk into and ask if there is anything on his/her plate you can help with.
  3. How frequent your touch-points are. You could be working your ass off in your corner cube, and you may think its obvious to everyone how much of a difference you’re making, but its usually not. You may have heard about the need to keep seeking feedback and tried to do so, but found that there’s always something critical going on and there’s no time. Whenever you join a new job or project, its important to put weekly one-on-one recurring meetings on your boss’s calendar and monthly one-on-one recurring meetings with his/her boss. This is least odd in the beginning, but has a tremendous impact in both them being aware of your work, and you being aware of your progress and their goals.
  4. How well you understand the business. Ultimately businesses are in the business of making money. If you don’t get the ‘big picture’, i.e. what your cash flows look like, who your largest clients are, what their priorities are, what your competition is doing, where your industry is going, which parts of your business are the cash cows and which are emerging, etc., you will always come across as an individual contributor and seldom as a leader. Dedicate some time every day or week purely to understanding your business. It will make a big difference to the way you judge situations and the kind of reasoning you bring to meetings, and in turn, to whether people see you as a leader.
  5. Whether you have a track record of getting things done. What is often important to your boss and his/her boss is not how hard you are working, but whether you are getting things done. One part of this is your ability to speak in terms of business outcomes rather than individual tasks. People often claim that someone is moving up by politically taking credit for their work, but the fact is that the person who is able to articulate progress in terms of business outcome subconsciously gets credit for progress made by the entire team – its more common sense than politics. The other part of this is how you’re able to work with other parts of the organization to overcome obstacles, rather than simply report obstacles to your boss. A successful negotiator is also perceived as a good leader.
  6. How reliable you are. Many employees are very reluctant to say no, or to disagree with set timelines. Sometimes they see it as not really being a choice. Other times they are simply non-confrontational. Best case scenario you are overworked and meet your commitments. Worst case scenario you are overworked and miss your commitments. Either way you have no time to study your business and no time to work on higher-order goals. Your boss will also continue to make commitments on your behalf. You’re better off being the guy who calls it like it is right from the start, and consistently does so. You may find your boss to be disgruntled initially, since he may need to pass on the bad news to someone else, but you will always be appreciated for it in hindsight, which is what matters at the end of the day.
  7. Whether you ask for the resources you need. Employees often assume that its wrong to ask for resources to do their jobs. Sometimes a lot of your work can be cut down through the use of a software tool. Other times you’re doing a repetitive task that is not the best use of your time and you could be more productive if you hired an intern. A $500 software license may seem like a lot, but spread over a year, its often not much. Depending on how well you present your case, these are more often seen as evidence of initiative than evidence of indolence.  They save you time that you can then spend on more important goals.
  8. How the rest of the organization sees you. Whenever you have an opportunity to help, no matter who the person is asking for it and whether it is related to your assigned duties or not, as long as you really are able to help or assist, do so. It will always come back when it matters. The exception is when someone is simply trying to move drudgery from his/her queue to yours.
  9. How much you respect both yourself and others. Ultimately people only respect you as much as you respect yourself, as well as how much you respect them. This does not mean becoming an egomaniac. It does mean valuing your colleagues and subordinates for the expertise they bring to the table, for this makes it easier for them to regard you as a leader. It also means you remain open to changing your mind if the evidence supports it. It also means you don’t become a yes man for the sake of it. A yes man may see temporary ascension under the wrong type of boss, but it never lasts. More often, your inability to disagree when a situation warrants it is also the same characteristic that lets people believe that they run the least risk if you are passed over for a promotion.
  10. Whether you ask for responsibilities, rather than promotions. In modern corporate culture, promotions do not bring you additional responsibilities. Rather, you are given a promotion because you’ve already taken on the responsibilities of the position you will be promoted to. Seeking (the right) responsibilities is easier than seeking a promotion, as long as you have everything else above nailed. A promotion will then be a natural result.
  11. Whether you know when to move on. Sometimes you seem to be doing everything right, but you continue to be passed over for that promotion year after year. You may not know all the reasons for not getting a promotion, even if you ask all the right people about it, but you will always know when you’re stuck in a dead-end job. Don’t live in perpetual denial. Break the cycle, move on and don’t look back. Remember that when you decide to move on, you really need to stick to it all the way. Never accept a counteroffer from your current employer no matter how attractive – the relationship never lasts.

The above rules apply only when you are trying to move into line management or middle management.

If you’re trying to move into senior management or executive leadership, you likely possess all of the above already. The power dynamics and the rules of the game have changed, however, and this is where conventional leaders often get stuck indefinitely, especially in large organizations. If you continue your current style of functioning, your only chance of a promotion is if your boss gets promoted, but you already know he’s been stuck there several years. You’ll often find, to your frustration, that even if your boss leaves, someone else is brought in to take his place. The key decision makers are usually a small team of top execs who may not even be in the same location as you are. Your access to them is limited to occasional large gatherings or workshops where you struggle to be noticed. You are likely well compensated and feel respected as the head of the group you manage, but feel like you’ve hit a brick wall within the organization.

There’s only one rule at this point: Make yourself redundant

I’ve seen this play out again and again so often it’s almost clichéd, yet never fails to be dramatic. The leaders who stay stuck are those who want to be involved in every decision in their team, for they can’t trust anyone else’s judgement better than their own. These leaders are perpetually buried in the details and their teams cannot operate in their absence. In contrast, the leaders who make the rapid ascent to the top are those who choose the right people within their team to take decisions for them, and empower them to do so with minimal oversight. They effectively make themselves redundant in the process.

This seems counter-intuitive; doesn’t making yourself redundant lead to a higher risk of a layoff? Apparently not.

These are also the leaders who then spend all the extra time they have piloting transformational initiatives, presenting at industry conferences, leading outreach programs, and thinking of as well as executing new and innovative ways of doing business within their group. They are often called to present their approach to top execs, and then help roll them out to other groups. They soon end up far more visible than their boss and become natural top candidates for the next senior leadership opportunity that opens up. Often, one is opened up for them. They’ve already eliminated any dependencies on themselves within their group, so they take very little time to move into a new opportunity when it opens up.

Such leaders epitomize the ideal of working smart and have fun doing it.

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