On Quora: First Jobs, Education, and Startup CEOs
Quora's one of my favourite websites. It's a place where people can anonymously ask questions, and a community of people provide answers. Questions range from the philosophical ("What is one thing you wish you had known at 21?") to functional knowledge ("I'm 18 years old and want to learn how to invest my money. How do I get started?").
I value that most answers on questions are written from the writer's personal perspective. They share descriptions and stories about their lives, identities, and the culture(s) they belong to. As someone who studies Sociology, which is the study of human society and the structures and organizations that influence it, I'm fascinated by these stories. Their answers give a peek into their lives, many whom I probably would never meet.
Here are three interesting questions and answers I've recently read:
1) What's the most common mistakes new graduates make in their first job?
Be more loyal to your company than the company is to you. I've managed too many teams that have entry level employees and I see this too often. You like your first company, they gave you your first real shot! You should be loyal, right?
Wrong. People stay in an entry level position for too long believing their employer will "take care of them" if they just work hard enough, stick around long enough....
Over time, this grinds a person down. I love that people believe that if you just work hard and do well your talents will be recognized and you'll be promoted, but the truth is this isn't always the way things work. Companies both large and small have to have a position to promote you to, a budget to pay you more, etc etc....
Once you've been at your first job for a bit, begin engaging your manager about what your options are for developing your career. If you start to get the sense that no one ever gets promoted, or that options for advancement are limited, then change gears: Learn what you can where you are and take that experience somewhere else.
2) What are some hallmarks of a truly educated person?
They are disarmingly humble and tolerant - A truly educated person is comfortable in their own skin. They have a clear understanding of their own abilities and are acutely aware of their weaknesses. They understand that humanity is a great collective that while diverse and different, share much in common. They know their place in the world and fully accept yours. Their emotional generosity allows them to put their own experience and prejudices to one side and so open themselves to the perspectives of others that may be vastly different from their own. In the words of the Roman lyric poet Horace, they have "an ear fine-tuned to The Grecian Muses, and a mind from vulgar envy aloof"
They are insatiably curious about the world around them and its people. They can lose themselves completely in a task, a hobby, an engaging conversation or a book that has captured their imagination. Their curiosity is a life giving stream that they drink at often. They are never bored because for them there is always something to learn, to study or to observe. A time of solitude quickly becomes an opportunity to capture thoughts, to untangle an as yet unresolved philosophical problem or to revisit and add to an innovative idea. In short, an educated person is totally self-entertaining.
3) What separates the top 10% of startup CEOs from the rest?
I've interviewed thousands of CEOs and some things that stand out to me:
- Good at hiring AND firing. Whenever you find a really great CEO you find someone who has a knack for hiring. That means selling other people on your dream or your business. Especially when it doesn't seem all that important or seems very risky. I used to work for a CEO who was awesome at hiring, but couldn't fire anyone. Doomed the business. Many of the best CEOs get others to follow no matter what.
- Builds a culture, not just a company. The best CEOs, like Tony Hsieh at Zappos, build a culture that gives everyone a mission. They stand out in a sea of boring companies.
- Listens and acts. Many CEOs want to tell you what they are doing, but the best ones listen to feedback, and, even, do something with that feedback. My favorites even give credit back. Mike McCue, CEO of Flipboard, tells audiences that I was responsible for a couple of key features.
- Is resilient. AirBnB took 1,000 days for its business to start working. Imagine if they gave up on day 999? The best CEOs find a way to dig in and keep going even when it seems everything is going against them.
- Has vision. Let's be honest. There are a lot of nice CEOs but if you don't have the ability to build a product that matters to people, then no one will remember your name. Can you see a way to make billions with wearable computers? I guarantee some can and they are the CEOs who will bring me interesting new products.