We were having goodbye beer at the Tied House in my final days at Mercury and Jeremy ambushed me by asking me to reflect on what I had learned while I was at Chain Link, Kintana, and then Mercury. After four or five beers I’m sure I said something brilliant, but I thought I should expand a bit in case I wasn’t all that articulate at the time.
In my seven years I learned…
It is usually a people problem.
Being an engineer, I wanted to believe problems usually centered around an idea or a technology, but more often than not it was a matter of communication and understanding. Being right doesn’t matter because there is rarely only one right and even if you are right, it doesn’t really matter unless everybody else understands you are right. Solve the people problem and more often than not, the rest follows.
Uniformly distrust your sense of urgency.
In the chaos of the moment I found I often misjudged the urgency of a problem. Which is why it was important to…
Be extremely judicious with your time.
I would often find myself spending time on the wrong things just because they were on my list or somebody else made them important. Your attention is gold — treat it as such. (Notice I didn’t say don’t waste time. It is often very important and necessary to waste time.)
Be comfortable with gray.
As an engineer you are trained in black and white, right and wrong. Turns out there is a lot of gray out there. In fact the majority of the things you run into don’t have a clear right or wrong answer. Even worse many problems have a solution that is both right and wrong at the same time.
It often is better to be sure than right.
Don’t pine over decisions — make quick informed decisions and spend your time making them right. You need to be able to look at a data sample and extract conclusions from that sample.
Empty the glass.
This is a term used in a class we took on communication (one of the best I have taken) and it turned out to be a great way to think about listening. It is critical that you understand the perspective of your stakeholders and team members. To do this you need to listen. Ask a lot of questions and try to get to the root of their position. It is often very different than it appears at the surface.
Recruiting is everything.
Recruiting takes a lot of time and it should. This is without a doubt the single most important thing a manager does. Get it right and your job will be easy, get it wrong and you will be in a world of hurt.
Talking to customers is critical.
I know this sounds obvious but sometimes the obvious needs to be said. I didn’t say “listen to customers” because often the customer has no idea what he or she is talking about. The key here is to marinate yourself in customer perspective and then draw your own conclusions. Hold on to a clear vision and then modify that vision as you learn more.