I rarely attend any networking events related to my work. I don’t know why but I just don’t like them. I suppose I’ve always been someone who goes into the office, does what I need to do and once I’m out the door I like to forget about my job and enjoy my personal life.
Anyway, last night a colleague wanted to go to a talk arranged by Intelligence Squared, so he dragged me along for the ride and I actually really enjoyed it (probably because it wasn’t related to Private Equity at all)! The guest speakers were Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook who is estimated to be worth $1.4 billion and is one of the wisest and most successful women in business today, along with Wharton management and psychology professor Adam Grant who has been voted one of the world’s 25 most influential business thinkers by Forbes for the last 5 years.
They discussed a lot of tech-based ideas relating to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and how any idea designed for success in the 20th century is probably doomed to fail in the 21st century. They both believe software and operating platforms are set to disrupt most traditional industries within the next 5 – 10 years, which I’d never really thought about before. Uber for example is just a software tool; they don’t own any cars, but they are now the biggest taxi company in the world. Airbnb is the largest overnight accommodation company across the globe, yet they don’t own a single property. In the US, young lawyers already don’t get jobs because of IBM Watson, which can give you legal advice, (so far basic stuff), within seconds but with 90% accuracy, compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans.
All fascinating stuff, but for me the most interesting takes from the evening were their list of business and life lessons they felt they’d learnt so far – some funny, some practical, some poignant – all useful.
They both felt the points below were key in getting them to where they are today, so I thought I’d type up the handout they gave us, to share with you too…
- When seeking a career after you leave college or making a job change, always take the job that looks like it will be the most enjoyable. If you enjoy what you do, success will follow. If it’s the job that pays the most, you’re very lucky. If it isn’t, but you believe you will enjoy the role, then take it anyway. Sheryl took a severe pay cut to take two of the best jobs she’s ever had, and they both turned out (in the long run) to be exceptionally rewarding financially. The saying “a man who does more than he is paid for, will soon be paid for more than he does” is true, so give your all. There is a perfect job out there for everyone. Most people never find it. Keep looking. The aim of life is to be a happy person and the right job is essential to that. When you decide what it is you want to do, strive for it and achieve your goal. If the plan doesn’t work, change your plan, not your goal.
- People are the ultimate assets. If you want to succeed quickly then go alone. If you want to go far then go with others. When you meet someone new, treat that person as a friend. Assume he or she is a winner and that they will be a positive force in your life. Most people wait for others to prove their value, but be different and give them the benefit of the doubt from the start. Occasionally you will be disappointed, but your network will broaden rapidly if you follow this path. Network intensely. Luck plays a big role in life, and there is no better way to increase your luck than by knowing as many people as possible. Nurture your network by sending articles, books and emails to people to show you’re thinking about them. You will be held in high regard for this small act of thoughtfulness. Putting people before profits will generally result in a life of profits. Putting profits before power will generally yield a life of power.
- When meeting someone new, try to find out what formative experience occurred in their lives before they were 17. It is a proven fact, that a formative event in everyone’s youth has an influence on everything that occurs thereafter. Discover what influential event happened to you too. You are the sum total of everything that has happened since that last slurp of coffee, how your parents hugged you and that thing your first friend once said about your handwriting – these are bricks that have been laid at the soles of your feet. Your eccentricities, foibles and fuck-ups are a butterfly effect of all the things you’ve seen on TV, things teachers said to you and the way people have looked at you since the very first time you opened your eyes. Stop thinking life is happening to you. Life is responding to you and your decisions. Being a detective for your past, tracing back through all of it to get to the source (with the help of a professional therapist if needs be) is essential, and can be incredibly useful and freeing. Remember though that this personal reflection is like the theory test when you’re learning to drive; you can work out as much as you like on paper, but at some point you’re going to have to get in the car and drive it.
- Invest in broadening your mind. The ability to learn is the most important quality anyone can have. Keep learning throughout your life. Do this by reading. Read all the time. 88% of financially successful people read for at least 45 minutes per day. Don’t just do it because you’re curious about something, read actively. Have a point of view before you start a book or an article and see if what you think is confirmed or refuted by the author. If you do this, you will read faster and comprehend more. Reading is essential for our self development; it makes us better conversationalists, provides us with a bank of knowledge and the active process of reading calms the mind. The average CEO reads more than 60 books per year. The person you will be in 5 years depends largely on the information you feed yourself today. Pretend wifi on an airplane or subway doesn’t exist, it’s terrible anyway. Always carry your kindle with you. Read at every opportunity.
- Lead by example. Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure your impact lasts in your absence. Take the time to give those who work for you a pat on the back when they do good work. Most people are so focused on the next challenge that they fail to thank the people who supported them from the start. It is important to do this. It motivates and inspires people and encourages them to perform at a higher level. You never know when you may need to call on people you have deemed beneath you. If you are difficult to deal with when you’re at the top, you can be certain that people will kick you twice as hard on your way back down the ladder. Talking badly about someone while they aren’t there to defend themselves says more about you than the person you are talking about. Business is not just about building your reputation; it’s about people and your reputation is in their hands.
- To be an entrepreneur you must be willing to fail and learn from that failure. The key is to fail early and to fail cheaply. Contemplate your failures more than your successes. Do not lament where you fell short, but learn the valuable lessons that will ensure you do not fail in the same way again. In 2009 Facebook failed to recognise the talent of Brian Acton and turned him down for a job. Later that year Acton created WhatsApp. In February this year, Facebook paid $19 billion for WhatsApp. Mistakes can be costly but never let fear of failure turn you into a bystander. Make taking risks intelligently part of your repertoire. Negotiating business terms is like planning a divorce before the wedding, but it is a necessary evil. Do not let it scare you, see it as safeguarding yourself and your business from the competition. Don’t try to be better than your competitors, be different. There is always going to be someone smarter than you, but there may not be someone who is more resilient. Remember that nothing in life is perfect. Two people can look at exactly the same thing yet see it completely differently, yet neither view incorrect. There is not one correct answer, many ways can and do work. Expecting things to be perfect is a recipe for disappointment. Perfection is the enemy.
- Trying to talk with haters is a fool’s game; it achieves nothing except causing you frustration and anger. Pick your conflicts carefully, most disputes are not worth fighting. Do not waste your time trying to explain yourself to people who are committed to misunderstanding you. When someone says “you don’t understand” it usually means “you do understand” but you disagree with their viewpoint. Do not engage in this mental and vocal masturbation. Ideas and talk are cheap; execution is invaluable. Focus on the decisions that matter. There is no point losing your cool over things you can’t possibly control. Remember you choose to let things bother you. The machine is rarely the problem, the people operating the machine are the problem. Liars in business are sadly par for the course; the person who claims never to have lied is usually the biggest liar in the room and are the ones who should be kept at a safe distance. If you want an honest group of people around you then you must act with integrity yourself. Judgement of good people is far more important than intellect.
- Be generous. Share what you have, be it time, money or kindness. Generosity is cheap over the long term. It may not be efficient for the 100 meter sprint but being generous is the most valuable asset you can have in the marathon of life, so pay it forward. Few people are truly generous, but if you are, you will be remembered for it and will receive benefits as a result of this unique quality many times over during your life. If you create networks with the sole intention of getting something you will never succeed. What is most magnetic about givers is that they willing to climb to the top without cutting others down, finding a way of expanding the pie so that it benefits the people around them as well as themselves. When people like you they will listen to you, but if they trust you to be a good person, they will do business with you.
- On philanthropy, try to relieve pain rather than spread joy. Music, theatre and art museums have many affluent supporters; they give the best parties and can add to your social luster in a community, but they do not need you. Social services, hospitals and educational institutions can make the world a better place and help the disadvantaged make their way towards the American dream.
- Genius is the outcome of hard work every single day, it is not a eureka experience. The hard way is always the right way. Never take shortcuts unless driving home from the Hamptons. Short-cuts can be construed as sloppiness which is the biggest career killer. There is no such thing as overnight success. The overnight successes we hear about almost always took 15 – 25 years. Believing in instant success makes people impatient and capricious, all of which have devastating effects on performance and judgement which will inevitably lead to failure. Facebook was not the instant success the business media would have us believe. Mark Zuckerberg dedicated years to learning and perfecting his craft; during which he experienced disappointment, reinvention and finally, success. He may not have endured the decades of trial and error that most business people have, but that does not mean his success was void of effort, disappointment, struggle and the like. Quick success is usually a result of the market suddenly realizing the value of a great product or service that had been kept in obscurity for too long whilst its creators refused to give up.
- If you don’t promote yourself nobody else will. It is your responsibility to convey who you are, nobody else’s. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands and by pulling back. When interviewing, think of yourself as a stripper; you need to be proud of who you are and show people your assets. Being confident and believing in your own self-worth is necessary to achieve your potential. Know your worth and then add tax but don’t over play yourself. Being subtle is not a gift bestowed on the young, it is learned as you wrinkle. Younger people are naturally insecure and tend to overplay their accomplishments. Most people don’t become comfortable with who they are until they are in their 40’s by which time, they underplay their achievements and become a nicer, more likable person. Try to get to that point as soon as you can.
- Marry a saint! If you can’t find a saint, then be with the person you hate the least. Happy marriages are built on a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each others company. In all good relationships you take turns to parent each other. Partners will need one another equally, at different times, for different reasons. A man needs a woman who can push him. A woman needs a man who can uplift her. Everyone needs someone who challenges their growth and matches their worth. It’s about teamwork. There really are only three questions you need to answer about a potential partner: 1). Do they treat you with respect at all times? 2). Do they care deeply about your well being? 3). Do they inspire you to be a better person? If you find someone, you can answer yes to for all three questions, then you have found a keeper. We all have flaws but there are few people in life who are willing to see past those and accept you for who you are. If you find someone who loves you unconditionally then hold onto them with all that you have. Don’t miss out on a good person who can help make your life great just because they have their flaws. You have yours too and the good things in life never come easy. I had planned to be with my husband forever, yet there were times I wanted to run from the house screaming because the person I promised to always love kept falling asleep in front of Fraiser reruns. I would give anything for him to be snoring in front of the Television now. I have learned that you don’t need a “happily ever after”, you need someone who makes you realize what matters in life and that person is usually a pain in the ass. Loyalty is rare, if you find it, keep it. Life is hard but having someone loyal by your side who loves you for who you are will make those tough days a lot easier. Someone who wants the best for you, is the person who is best for you. All too often, we see men and women who think it’s perfectly fine to neglect their relationships in order to move up the corporate ladder or increase their net worth and in the process of doing so they lose what matters most – love. It is ok to lose your pride over someone you love, but never lose someone you love over your pride. Invest in your relationship. Partnerships in romantic pairings require as much work and commitment as they do in business.
- Physical fitness is critical, so stay in shape and start now. If you are “too busy to workout” your priorities need to change. There are not many things more important than you health. Participate in sports — especially team sports – for as long as you can. Some invaluable lessons can be learned from team sports, such as the interdependence we have on one another and that the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. There are six things you can do for your body now that you’ll never regret: look after your teeth (including regular appointments with the hygienist); wear sunscreen religiously; don’t smoke; don’t drink to excess; check your breasts / testicles weekly; leave your eyebrows well alone. Most other things can be easily reversed or laughed at. Enjoy a healthy balanced diet. Treat yourself but be sensible. You probably do not have a wheat intolerance, you’re just not eating wheat in a normal-sized portion. Everyone feels ill after eating a whole loaf of bread, you’d feel unwell after eating an entire watermelon in one go too. Do not eat sugar every day. Sugar turns everything on the outside and inside of your body to pot. It spikes your energy levels for minutes but will cause a slump in your productivity for hours. Three litres of water makes everything work properly. A glass of red wine is medicinal.
- The most important lesson the past has taught me is that sadly, everything can be ephemeral, and the rug you are standing on can be pulled from underneath you with absolutely no warning. Life is often very hard and always pretty short. Sometimes it is cut even shorter in unfair and unpredictably brutal ways. With this in mind ensure those around you know how much they mean to you. Don’t let love go unspoken. Tell people how you feel about them while you still can, because the biggest regrets will never be the things you say, it will always be the things you didn’t say. Admit to making mistakes, you will be held in much higher regard than refusing to acknowledge an error. Never ruin an apology with an excuse. Be forgiving. Leave negativity in the past. Move forward with positive intentions. When we are young we believe there’ll be many people with whom we will connect. Later in life we realize how rare it is to meet someone who feels familiar to you the moment you meet them; someone you connect with through shared values not shared lust. Sadly there is often a difference between who we love and what we settle for and that often comes down to timing. There is no perfect moment to guarantee you will get what you want. No time when you’ll be 100% ready to take a new job, fall in love, have a child, move cross-country, build a business, stand in your truth, pursue your dreams. These things all require guts and the most legendary of relationships, the greatest creations and the most heralded businesses all come from people who are willing to live and act in the face of uncertainty. It is a terrible thing in life to wait until you are ready. Timing is always a compromise; if you take too long, your “not yet” will result in a “too late“. We only have the here and now. Enjoy life whilst you are living it, you never know which moments will be the ones that will you bring you comfort in the dark days. Be open for anything at any time. Take joy in everything. There is only one chance at life. Learn this before it’s too late.