5 ideas I’ve stolen from people I've worked with
A short list of advice, guidance, and principles to use in your career
Over the years, all of us accumulate certain bits and pieces of advice, hacks, tips, and learned wisdom that become our little mental model of the world.
I have these too, the shorter ones of which I write down on stickies and put up around my desk. They are great reminders during a workday, especially if you need a confidence boost.
But some of it is longer, more important and nuanced, earned the hard way, and not easily condensed into small notes.
I had been thinking about a few of these when I realised I knew where they got into my head from. I had stolen them from people I had worked with. So as I’m liable to do, I sat and wrote them down.
Here are 5 of them.
1. On saying no to the inessential - Paras Chopra, former CEO of Wingify
Back in 2017, Paras gave me a copy of Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism. I read it and absolutely loved it and its ideas.
This is the basic premise:
"The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless."
I have followed the book’s tenets since, and Paras has always been its chief example. Over the years, I’ve watched his decision making with more and more admiration, as he has made sure he only works on things he is completely invested in. He says no to almost everything and maintains razor-sharp focus on his goals.
There’s so much to learn from that.
2. On productivity - Vijay Rayapati, CEO of Atomicwork
I’ve always been a bit annoyed at my boss Vijay’s near-superhuman productivity. Startups are an irrational, inordinate amount of work. I know this really well. But he somehow knows everyone, gets everything done on time, reads everything important and current in our field, and at times even knows what I’m working on when he has been nowhere near me or my calendar.
Near the end of last year, I was with Vijay in his car when I asked him how he does all of this, how he manages his productivity.
So he told me the parable of rocks, pebbles, and sand. Rocks represent important tasks, pebbles denote moderately important ones, and the sand symbolises less significant tasks. If my life was a bottle I had to fill up, I should put in the rocks first, giving them the most time and energy, he said. Then come the pebbles, also important, but after the rocks. Last comes the sand. Always remember to fill up your bottle this way, he said, not the sand first. If you start with sand, you won’t have place for the rocks. And that’s disaster.
It’s brilliant advice, visual and memorable, and I use it all the time in life and work.
3. On leadership - Shekhar Kirani, Partner at Accel India
Leadership is an abstract, unquantifiable art sometimes. How do you know if someone is a good leader/manager or not?
A long time ago, Shekhar Kirani defined it this way: You know a great manager when everyone they have ever led wants to work with them again. Shekhar didn’t say this to me directly. This is received advice, but valuable nevertheless.
It is also important to me because since I heard this, I have tried to be that kind of leader and manager, the kind people want to come back to and work with again. I don’t think I have succeeded there, it’s a work-in-progress. But I want to get there at some point.
I think it’s a worthy goal to have.
4. On reverse engineering - Girish Mathrubootham, CEO of Freshworks
A long time ago, I was told to design a micro-site at Freshworks. This is usual marketing stuff, but was new to me, a rookie at the time. I did it diligently, thinking about the layout, the experience, the flow, and showed the end result to Girish. This is nice, but why are you doing this from scratch, he asked. Just take a website you like, whose flow you enjoy, and replicate it. Don’t go reinvent the wheel, get the job done faster, he told me.
This was, and still remains, good advice in the kind of work we do, where speed and delivery is important. We have to do things quickly, and get to results fast. In these situations, the ability to reverse engineer processes, assets, and outcomes is pure gold.
I have probably used this lesson every single day since.
5. On momentum - Manasi Shah, Vice President at Accel India
A few weeks ago, a James Clear newsletter had this to say:
"Look for situations where the energy is already flowing downhill. Invest in relationships where there is already mutual respect. Create products that tap into a desire people already have. Work on projects that play to your strengths.
And then, once the potential of the situation is already working for you, add fuel to the fire. Pour yourself into the craft. Act as if you have to outwork everyone else—even though the wind is at your back.
The idea is to sprint downhill, not grind uphill."
I recognised this as advice Manasi, who I worked with at Accel, had given me. I had always admired the way she thought about things, and one day, over filter coffee, I had asked her how she thought about growth and careers.
She talked of momentum, something I had never thought about in this context. She said that you had to watch where the momentum was taking you, and ride that wave. There was no point steering yourself in a direction that was opposite or tangential.
It was refreshing, important advice at a time when I needed it. And I have based a few important decisions on that insight.
A reminder that The CMO Journal is brought to you by SocialPilot, a social media management tool that my team and I now use at Atomicwork.
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