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Startup Life

OK, maybe you Got It, but will They?

Hmmm… maybe one more change
Most of my posts take a few days to write. I tend to write my first draft as a collection of thoughts and then start piecing them together. Most times, I sleep on it and return with different thoughts and maybe even a different perspective. Sometimes, especially when I’ve recorded my sketches and voice over, I may redo everything. That’s a tougher decision to make because of all the effort involved in creating those things. And finally, sometimes I’ll go through the whole cycle again simply because I inadvertently fell asleep putting the kids – Sara (11) and Alex (7) to bed. That too may result in an update since my best ideas usually come to me when I’m away from the keyboard and completely mellowed out with them.

Sticky?
I have a few ideas rumbling around in my head that I think are pretty slick. They’re actually quite simple. But that’s in my mind. You see I’ve spend quite a few nights snuggling with Sara & Alex, so I’ve gone through the above scenario more than once.

Pitching an idea is an art. I’ve been in a start-up before & was always fascinated by how the pitches were modified based on the audience. So whether I want to bounce the idea off of a friend, or colleague, or, am pinned to give the proverbial elevator pitch to a VP, it has to be good. It has to stick.

So I’m now reading Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die and have to admit, it is sticky. I am without a doubt more conscientious about how I express myself.

Beyond ‘Getting It’
But… Didn’t you ever wonder if you actually “got it”? Didn’t you ever wonder if you were able to do it justice? If the author, teacher, mentor were to review your work, would you get a πŸ™‚ out of them?

Depending on the situation, following through with that new approach can be a leap of faith. You get one shot to make your pitch. Are you going to risk it all on;

  1. Did you get it?
  2. Did you do it justice in your preparation? Or,
  3. Did you even take the right advice?

Here’s a little story
We have an amazing instant messaging tool – IBM’s Lotus Sametime, which lets you find anyone working in the company – IBM . Like many of these tools, it has Presence Awareness – you can tell everyone whether you’re “Available”, “Away from the computer now”, “In a meeting”… yada yada yada. But not like any other competing tools I’ve experienced, you can also see where anybody is in the organization chart, who they report to, their title, piers, who reports to them and loads more.

A few months ago I was looking for a new job within IBM and was chatting with my colleague Angus Mcintyre. Angus pointed me to a few other names that may be able to help me out. I usually check their info first before pinging them (checking if they could chat) but this time I forgot. I pinged Jeff Schick, a VP. Normally I would never ping so high up in the food chain but what was done was done. So I forged on.

By the end of the day I had a 30 minute phone call scheduled with Jeff at 7 AM – the next morning. I really wish I would’ve read the Heath brothers’ book back then. But, I was in the middle of another excellent book – Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures which I blogged about in Lots of pictures. I stayed up till 3 AM sketching my brains out trying to figure out how am I going to get my message across. To be clear, let’s review the situation:

  • I have a VP
  • He’s never heard of me before
  • I was persistent with his assistant to get any time on his calendar. (In a company of more than 390,000 employees, we are actually encouraged to be “persistent”. But one never knows for sure how its received.)
  • He was going out his way to talk to me
  • It was 7 AM
  • I had less than 30 minutes

I took that leap of faith & trusted that I had gotten enough of the book to pull it off. I sketched my last 20 years of experience in one image and called it “How [my profile image] came to [Jeff’s profile image] and Why”. I set up an ad hoc meeting with Sametime Unyte to share the image with Jeff and Sametime’ed (sent him an instant message with) the web site address (URL). Snafu. Jeff pushed back. It was too early in the morning for this sort of thing. So, I immediately apologized and backed off. I said he could just close the window but I’ll keep mine open because I’m sure the answer to any question he has in there somewhere.

It wasn’t easy and to this day I have no idea if Jeff actually saw my work or not. I do know that his first question was something like “So how did you come to me & what can I do to help you out?” It was an awesome phone call and I certainly did achieve some results.

Netting it out. Can you do it?
Another colleague of mine, Claudia Mueller Thompson, once advised me that you’ve got to net it out for execs. Don’t ever send them flowing prose in email expecting them to scroll and scroll through your War & Peace email. Make it one sentence – preferably with no punctuation. These folks are constantly being bombarded with distractions. They could easily have someone in their office, already be on a conference call and have Sametime chat windows firing off like popcorn.

So if you – the genius behind your idea, can’t net it out in less than one sentence, then how do you expect the person on the receiving end to Get It?

Imagine test driving your one-liner elevator pitches
Imagine you were posting something that, if done right, could really help your career. I’m sure you can because that’s apparently one of the reasons why people blog. (I wish I could find that link again.)

Try doing this. You could create a survey (for free) at SurveyMonkey and

  1. Add the link to your blog, or email message
  2. Use Twitter to broadcast it

Thanks to Michael Stelzner for introducing me to SurveyMonkey.

Please take my survey Which one of these titles is the stickiest?.

Be sure to follow me on http://twitter.com/stevenmilstein and I’ll tweet whenever I get results.

Reflection
Can you see yourself doing something like this? Give it a shot & please come back to let me know how it worked out for you. In the meantime, I’ll be more than happy to respond to your survey. And if we collaborate, then the next time you question whether you can net it out or not, you know the answer will be Yes We Can. Sorry, I just couldn’t help my self πŸ™‚

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