Tell Me What You See

When you look at me, what do you see? When you look at others, what do you see? Am I judged by my appearance? Are you skeptical or wary? These thoughts offer an interesting commentary on our society in general and on entrepreneurship in particular. Here’s what I have observed – about others and sometimes about myself. Are we actually looking for the good in our fellow man, or are we focused on finding fault? The political situation has disproportionately magnified this concern. Our country is so divided and partisan that it’s easy to instantly brand another person based upon what we perceive to be their ideology. Rightly or wrongly, if they are branded as a liberal or conservative; a Democrat or Republican, we may automatically draw conclusions that don’t serve us well.

I am renewing my efforts to work harder to see the good in others; to help build others up, rather than tearing them down. Does this sound trite? Think about it for a moment. Jonathan is negotiating to purchase a piece of equipment for his factory. There are major dollars involved and he has located the item that is only slightly used. Jonathan’s first thought is, “I wonder how I’m going to get screwed by the seller?” Right out of the blocks he’s telling the universe that he expects to be taken advantage of. He knows nothing about the individual who is selling the equipment. When asked why he feels this way, he responds, “Well, you can’t trust anyone these days.” Wow! We’ve all heard this before. But why would we set expectations this way? The transaction is immediately infused with negative energy from the start.

Here’s another one. Molly is the 28-year of vice-president of marketing at a consumer products company. While interacting with a prospective client who is in his sixties, he makes a rather inartful comment. Molly is immediately triggered into thinking that she is being harassed. The comment was harmless to the client from a generational perspective, but Molly now sees him as a horrible person. From this point forward, everything he says and does is seen by Molly in a negative light.

Here’s the last example. Henry is interviewing candidates to fill a software development position. One individual had a very pronounced southern accent and was slightly overweight. These traits were off-putting to Henry and he scratched the candidate from consideration. This was a classic case of “judging a book by its cover.”

Now let’s look at the flip side of these encounters. For Jonathan, he had no idea that the company selling the used piece of equipment had a new piece of equipment arriving within two weeks and needed to quickly remove the old piece. To accomplish this, the company marked down the price significantly in order to move it.  The equipment had been maintained in pristine condition and was truly a bargain. Instead of her knee-jerk reaction to the older client, Molly might have chalked it up as a comment that was not intended to be offensive and watched to see if there was any other behavior that warranted concern. Finally, had Henry tested his candidate, he might have found a brilliant mind hiding inside that southern good old boy.

Ronald Reagan once used the term, “trust but verify” when answering a question about nuclear disarmament. This concept remains as viable today as it did back in the 1980s. Rather than thinking the worst about others, we instead genuinely think the best about them and through our interactions, verify that they deserve our positive feelings and goodwill. Instead of being on guard all the time, we embrace others and reject the notion that they intend to do us harm. If at some point it is clear they are intentionally breaking our trust, then we change our feelings toward them.

Our entrepreneurial endeavors are enhanced when we see the best in others. When we establish our relationships in a positive manner they will flourish. When we help build others up, both parties will be the beneficiaries. I recently had the opportunity to begin working with an individual that represents a company with which we’ve done business for years. Another member of our team had previously dealt with him numerous times and had fairly negative things to say about their encounters. I chose not to have preconceived notions about this individual and after several e-mails and conversations, found him to be most pleasant and helpful. He conducted himself honorably and while a little slow with his responses, always managed to follow through. I believe that if I had bought into my teammates feelings, my interactions might have been less positive.

When we adopt the trust but verify attitude, we can build strong and lasting relationships that will flourish over time. Thus, when you ask me what I see, I say that it’s all good.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Who Is This Murphy Guy?

Suppose you are an entrepreneur who is seeking start-up funding for a terrific idea you have. You do your homework and put together a solid business plan. Market research shows a lot of upside. Then you pitch your idea to a group of investors and hear the following observations, “I’m concerned that it would be very easy for a competitor to take this idea and run with it faster than you will.” Or, “you are projecting revenues to grow at a 25% rate per quarter for the first three years. Do you seriously believe this can be accomplished?” And finally, “your burn rate seems pretty low – in my experience a rate double what you suggest would seem more appropriate.” What do these statements and questions represent? If you said “skepticism,” you are correct.

Skepticism can be a healthy thing for entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs alike. In 1987, Ronald Reagan made his famous “trust but verify” statement about a treaty with the then-Soviet Union. This is a great guidepost for us where skepticism is kept in a positive perspective. Part of advancing new ideas is to have them challenged. A lot of questions are to be expected, many of which may be doubting in nature. This is good – if our ideas can survive rigorous scrutiny and we can provide evidence that is sufficient to prove our case, everyone wins.

There’s a very fine line between the kind of skepticism that is all about looking for answers or proof, and that which questions veracity or integrity. When others become suspicious of our motives, we’ve entered dangerous territory for now we’re on the border of “cynicism.” Cynics suspect that others are motivated by self-interest and at times exhibit varying degrees of paranoia. When cynicism exists in an organization it’s like a cancer. The attitude of a cynic is negative. I believe that cynics are related to Murphy – you know, the Murphy of Murphy’s Law . . . anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Cynics are often denigrating, disapproving, apprehensive, sarcastic, and like to run other people down. You can see why cynics and their cynicism are so unproductive for any organization or institution.

Let’s juxtapose the skeptic and the cynic in our previous example of the start-up seeking funding. I already provided statements and questions that might have been made from a skeptical point of view. Now, here is what the cynic might say. “This idea is unoriginal and doesn’t stand a chance to succeed. Why are you pitching this to us? I’ll bet you’re going to take our money; buy a few computers; have a big party; shut down your company, and leave us holding the bag!” Not one positive thing was said there. And all of the various cynical tendencies were on full display – sarcasm, suspicion, bitterness, paranoia, and disapproval. Sure this may be a bit over-dramatized. But the illustration shows the stark contrast that is important to understand.

We need to maintain a certain dose of skepticism lest we suffer too large a degree of naïveté. Skepticism can be difficult for some entrepreneurs. We are optimists and have powerfully positive mindsets. There may be times when we aren’t interested in looking at the downside of our ideas. That’s why it’s critical that we have people on our team who exhibit a higher level of skepticism. And we must give them permission to prod and probe while expressing their skepticism in a constructive manner. Skeptics serve the entrepreneur well as a counterbalance to wild, pie-in-the-sky unrealistic notions. On the other hand, we must constantly be on the lookout for cynics and eliminate them when they surface.

Embracing healthy skepticism helps to build a better and more sustainable organization. Denying cynicism before it takes root is equally important to the long-term success of whatever it is that we are pursuing.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 63 – Go Away – We’re Closed!

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.