Having Been to Harvard

It’s nice to be headhunted. It happens to me reasonably often and, despite loving what I do, I’m always happy to talk. You never know when a great opportunity will emerge, and I sometimes refer recruiters to those in my expanding network. It’s part of being a “link-man” (a role I relish).

But it’s funny how every conversation makes me think of @meritology. This morning I had a quick chat, with a very bright researcher, about a very big role. Two things struck me about the call:

  1. They were finding out whether I could do the job. I was trying to find out about the job.  The written brief was heavy on content (targets and numbers mainly) and light on context. It told me very little about the company, in terms of its culture or why it is confidently adopting such a high-growth strategy. So I didn’t glean much from the call. Maybe the researcher was poorly briefed, but we certainly didn’t connect. It felt a much too one-sided call, and that switched me off.
  2. There was little information about the CEO (the leader and the boss in this situation). All I gained was that he is “bright and went to Harvard’. Why would they mention that? It must be because having been to Harvard automatically makes him destined for success, a great guy, and someone with whom I’d really get along. Err, no actually. I’ve nothing against Harvard, or indeed any of the high-quality schools in the US. I just haven’t experienced any of them, so it’s hard to make any judgement either way.

So I find myself having only the following information (or assumptions) to work on – it’s a high-growth role, in an bluntly target-driven organisation I know little about, working for someone who has a completely different background to me.  On balance, it’s looking like a “no” – not something I’d ever like to pursue.

    What’s my fundamental point? If you’re trying to get a person interested in something, think about what would appeal to them. Get off your standard script, and have a real conversation. Work out their drivers and motivators, and explain things in their terms. And be careful what you drop into conversation – having been to Harvard is laudable, but it doesn’t light rockets and fireworks in my mind. I don’t really care. There are brilliant people here, there and everywhere.


    From First to Last

    This morning is a lovely morning. Ok, rubbish in a weather sense – howling wind, and that misty rain that makes everything damp. But great because I realise how my batteries have recharged after spending time with my family (which I did last night) and meeting brilliant #standout people (which I did yesterday afternoon). My mind has been busily dissecting and analysing the afternoon’s example; thinking about why they were so memorable, particularly given we’ve only met once. Why have they stayed firmly in my mind, as great people and professionals? It’s really simple, and let me explain.

    It’s often said that “first impressions last”, so you need to manage those first few minutes when you meet someone. Actually, given how judgemental many people can be, they have probably made their decision about you in the first few SECONDS – if you doubt that, then Google “The 7/11 Rule” by Michael Solomon. But to really #standout, you need to manage your next impression and your last impression as well. And that’s what the daughter/mother team I met yesterday managed to do – subconsciously and instinctively. It was obvious that their:

    1. first impression was of smiling positivity, as they welcomed me into their home and business (which created connection)
    2. next impression was their sparky interest in my work, and how it could be applied to theirs (which created energy)
    3. last impression was of firm commitment to moving things forward, and making things happen (which created trust)

    This all meant that our planned ninety-minute meeting lasted over four hours, and I was absolutely buzzing. What advice would I give? Practice your first impression. But be mindful that it’s your next and last impressions that create the lasting impact. The author Sonya Parker once said that:

    Almost everyone will make a good first impression. But only a few will make a good lasting impression.

    So focus on those three elements. Be mindful of them, when you meet new people or encounter new situations. Control them when you can. Manage them from FIRST to LAST. Because people who do that are so impressive. And in a crowd of people, and a world of many things, impressive makes you so #standout.


    Wear That Badge With Pride

    For my speaking engagement on Friday, I’m carefully reading the information about the guests (looking for clues and cues about theming the talk, and how much risk to take with the visuals and script). One of the guests starts their profile with “dropped out of high school at 16 to set up his first business”. Is that really the right headline for a professional profile? You won’t be surprised to hear that this person has an entrepreneurial background, and having dropped out of school is almost a badge of honour for those who have started their own business. After all, dropping out of Harvard never did Bill Gates any harm!

    But what if you don’t personally have an entrepreneurial background? Will you automatically make the link that dropping out of school made this person a better entrepreneur? That having to fight to grow a business (without the extra knowledge and elevated status a higher education would bring) taught him toughness, resilience and made him what he is today? Or are we less empathetic to entrepreneurs, and see him as a drop out who had to find something else to do, which is a brutal but possible way to look at his profile? 

    My father was an entrepreneur. He didn’t flunk school, but he left at sixteen and went to work. And worked hard; including buying a beaten-up car (and £50 of stock) and hitting the road to make a living. So I think I have some appreciation of the mindset of an entrepreneur, and I’m thinking positively about this guest. But if I didn’t have that life story, might I just think he was a dropout? 

    My message is this – be careful with how you project yourself and write your profile. If something helps to better tell your story, then make the point – but link it to the #value the experience (or fact or feature) brings to the reader. In this case, what’s implicit is that my guest can help other entrepreneurial businesses grow, because he’s been through the pain and excitement of that journey. And if you do make the link to #value, then wear that badge with pride. But be explicit – don’t keep the reader guessing how a perceived negative leads to a positive outcome.


    It’s All Relative

    Here’s my #thoughtfortheday. Waking very early (insomnia, or an active brain, I’m never quite sure) I dimmed the ipad light and started looking for new books about #value and #success. You won’t be surprised to hear that there are definitely hundreds, and probably thousands. Even when I search for only those rated 4.5 stars and above (on Kindle), there are loads. Given that you’re not in a position to read as many business books as me ((big assumption, but it’s kind-of my job), let me tell you what I found.

    Whilst the majority of authors are advocating some lifestyle changes, clever ways to generate ideas, and learning techniques for standing out, much of their work seems pretty complicated. Probably more importantly, each of the “best-rated” books seems to have at least one “golden nugget”; an idea that made me concentrate and really take notice.  But there isn’t one place that curates all this brilliant knowledge, and maybe that’s a book for me to write.

    But here’s what really stuck in my mind. Many of the books are of the “buy at the airport”, self-help variety. They focus on making you the best in the world. Maybe that’s what sells books, but I’m not much interested. Meritology’s approach is more earthy and gritty – we’re interested in how people #standout in their context, alongside their peers and against their competitors. And it’s all relative. Everything in life is relative, because we all look at things from different perspectives. Perspectives depend on background, experience, intentions and objectives.

    In the world of being #standout, your #value and #success is measured against what’s around you. For example, if you’re a star in a team of average players then you’ll #standout.  If you’re brilliant in an industry sector that doesn’t attract the best talent, your clients will love you (some personal experience coming out there). And if you’re the best on a given day, and at a significant time, then you’ll get the gig or the deal.

    So don’t obsess about being the best. Focus on being the best you can be.  If life is an athletics race, remember you only have to be a vest-breadth ahead of the other runners. It’s not always about breaking a world record.


    But I Still Hate Algebra

    Ok, so I like maths. But I hate algebra. When I was eleven it gave me a mental block, and I needed some additional coaching. It’s a positive story, because I went on to win the school maths prize at thirteen. Yet even now algebra leaves me cold – but strangely I have an odd fascination with equations…

    When I was creating Meritology, that fascination had me looking for an equation to calculate value. By “value,”, I mean the specific value people and companies add to their customers, colleagues and communities. Bigger brains than mine have created some brilliant ways to define value. For example, Henley Business School’s own Andrew Kakabadse (Twitter: @Kakabadse) has developed an evidence-based way of defining whether a senior executive is a “value-delivery” leader. His worldwide research, of almost 15,000 boards and top teams, produces a defined success formula. This shows that a senior executive’s value is driven by:

    1. how much employees are engaged, and
    2. to what extent the organisation is aligned

    with the strategy that executive creates for the business. I’ll leave Andrew to explain the formula in more detail, and my take is simple – it means that senior directors can create the best business strategy around, but it will fail if there is poor engagement and alignment. By implication, even a reasonable strategy will produce great results, if there is near-perfect engagement and alignment. To prove the point, think of successes like Apple and Amazon, and failures like Phones4U (where suppliers and and stakeholders were very apparently not aligned with strategy).

    But is there a more universal equation that can be used to calculate value? Can we develop something simple and straightforward that we can apply to all situations? Research and experience tells me there is definitely a method. And so we have developed a new methodology to define, describe and discuss personal and organisational value. It recognises that calculating value is a science and an art.  It’s part equation, and part perception. There are hard factors and soft factors.  We call it The MERIT Method, and the five factors are:

    • Memory (how people remember you, and what drives their perceptions)
    • Emotion (why they connect to you, and their reaction to what you say and do)
    • Results (what you deliver, and the methods you use)
    • Innovation (where you have increased your value, or solved individual and specific problems)
    • Time (when value is recognised, and how that changes – including the “right time, right place” principle)

    It’s a working framework, rather than a static model. And we know that every situation is different, making each factor more, or less, important. The fun comes from thinking about each factor, and what you should be doing to increase your today and tomorrow value – making you and your company #standout.

    So that fascination with equations helped me create this new method. But I still hate algebra. Someone I know confesses that she has “a little place in my heart just for simultaneous equations”. Thank goodness for that.  When my son is struggling with his algebra homework, I know who he’s asking for help!