Steve Jobs’ Customer Telepathy – How to get it – #4 in a series (~3 min read)

‘Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.’ – Steve Jobs

I just heard a podcast where Joe Gebbia described that things really started to take off for his business when he got on a plane and sat with a number of customers in New York. He was able to see how they use the product, ask them why they chose it and what was most important to them.

Being a designer by trade, Gebbia is innately curious and has an unabiding thirst to learn. This steadfast curiosity helps him to be in the right frame of mind when talking to his customers. He is not trying to show them how to use his product correctly. He is not trying to correct their behavior. He wants to know what job they hired his product to do for them and how they employ his tool to get that job done. What need it fulfills for them and what actions they took to fulfill it. He is constantly searching for “WHY”.

It was after this trip that Joe said things really started to come together for him and his struggling company. It was not too soon after this trip to New York that Airbnb took off after years of hardship and toil. By getting to really understand its customers – their actions and needs – Airbnb turned the corner and soon after that fateful trip to New York become the largest hotel “chain” in the world.

This is the topic of the fourth in a series of startup to scale-up. How to prepare for and conduct the interview process. To quickly find out if your idea has legs or if should you scrap it and start on something new.

You may have a great idea but you are a bit early or you may think it is great but no one really cares. Your job is to create a viable business not just sell folks on your idea. The following are some ideas, tips and techniques to help you along the way.

Interview Process

A key component is the interview process with your target customer. The following are suggestions on how to manage the process.

Please note that from previous posts we have decided to move ahead with the idea and have nailed the pain and the target (or at least a hypothesis of what the pain and target are). We will now identify the interview process – the set of questions and the all-important mindset you need to nail to build your business.

Get Your Head Right

The most important part of any customer development interview is to be in the right frame of mind. Your goal is to learn about how your customer works and thinks versus proving that your idea is correct or nearly perfect. You need to put yourself in their shoes, you need to set your ego aside and let your empathetic side come forth. This is NOT about you. This is the best way to make your company successful.

The reason for setting your mind right is that during the interview process there is no set of questions that you can come up with that will work in every situation. it is impossible to anticipate every eventuality in this type of conversation. Each conversation will take on a life of its own so you are going to be making up questions on the fly based upon the answers/comments you hear. Therefore, how you approach the conversation is arguably more important than the questions you ask.

Sample questions

Before we go ahead and list questions that you ask your target customer, I recommend you ask yourself one question, “What am I trying to learn?”. You may want to learn if your target profile is right, maybe if your product features are important or possibly if you have the right business model. Keep your focus on the answer to this question to facilitate and expedite the process.

Now some basic questions from Lean Customer Development you can use the get the conversation going:

  • Tell me about how you do _________ today?
  • Do you use any [tools/ products/ apps/ tricks] to help you get ________ done?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and be able to do anything that you can’t do today, what would it be?
  • Don’t worry about whether it’s possible, just anything.
  • Last time you did ___________, what were you doing right before you got started?
  • Once you finished, what did you do afterward?
  • Is there anything else about _________ that I should have asked?

Quick aside

Every interview I have conducted (hundreds) and every book I have read (handful) that shows how to conduct this type of interview confirm that you should start with some questions to get the conversation flowing such as “How long have you been in this role?”, “How long have been with the company?, even talk about the weather, sports, something you see in their office or from their bio – whatever you are comfortable with.

Back to Interview Process

The interview will go off on many tangents as you work through the process. This is where getting your mind right is key so you can more deeply understand your customer’s needs and pains. You can mitigate getting sucked into the mink hole of proving how clever you are and if what you built or want to build is right. (Please note that a mink hole is a rat hole that feels good all the way down.) That comes later. Be patient as your patience will likely save you, your employees, investors, friends and family tons of time, frustration and money in the long run.

Have I spent enough time and ink stating how important your state of mind is going into these interviews? Ok, let’s move on.


Here is an oft-used example to prove the value of asking questions from the right frame of mind to learn about your customers and their true desires and actions.

If you ask someone what kinds of movies they like to go to, they are more likely to say 12 Years a Slave or The Piano or Schindler’s List, etc. However, if you ask them what movies they have gone to lately, the list is more often completely different such as The Avengers or Dumb and Dumber or some scary horror film.

The last set of movies more closely resembles who that person – actual vs. aspirational questions are important.

Asking questions to get to actual behavior gets you closer to the truth and will help you build a product that is much more likely to be one they will purchase and/or use as it addresses a real pain or need.

Avoid questions that have anything to do with you and your product. Ask open-ended questions as much as possible. Try to avoid questions that start with is, are, would and similar words that are close-ended and aspirational. They are not forbidden but you should avoid them as much as possible.

What to avoid

Here are some questions beginnings you should try to avoid

  •  How likely…..?
  •  How would…..?
  • What do you think…..?
  • Would you ever….?

The last thing to remember is, do not pitch or demo your idea until the interview process is over. Very important!

Additional Resources

If you would like some more in-depth guidance before you start, I recommend picking up Nail it then Scale It or Lean Customer Development. You can find a link to them on the Resources page on my site. I also show the 8-step process you can go through to get this right on my Offerings page.

Next time, we will talk about how you can start to nail the solution through the iterative prototyping process.

See you next time!

Be Exceptional! (;

I look forward to your comments. If you found this post useful, please share, comment and/or like.

How well do you know your customer? (#3 in a series of how to go from startup to scaleup – 4 min read)

Here is what we have covered so far in previous posts:

  1. 5 steps to take BEFORE you launch a startup
  2. How to Nail the Pain

Now we will cover how many identify your target customer in preparation for the interview process. Both are very important to quickly determining whether you have identified a market that has the pain/need that you can solve.

Identify the Target Profile

The key to identifying the target profile for a startup is to realize that your first customers will be those who need your product and have either been searching for it or have tried to solve the problem in another way. You begin to identify these people by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the problem? The answer to this, at this point, will very likely be how you perceive the problem through personal experience or observation. If you have 3rd party confirmation even better.
  2. Who do I believe is experiencing the problem as I have described it?

The answer to this question may provide you with a fairly broad spectrum such as moms or engineers or professionals or athletes. One exercise you can use to narrow this down is called Opposing Traits Analysis. That is, look at a number or opposite traits and place your target customer somewhere on the spectrum. For example:

Here are some suggestions to help get you started but these should be traits that you come up with and believe are part of your target customer’s make-up.

Consumer Target

  • Cash versus time
  • Decision accepter versus decision maker
  • More control versus more convenient
  • Low-tech versus tech-savvy
  • Replaces frequently versus long-term purchaser
  • Values adventure versus values predictability
  • Enjoys highs and lows versus prefers consistency

Business Target:

  • Low-tech versus tech-savvy
  • Low autonomy versus high autonomy
  • Conservative corporate culture versus progressive corporate culture
  • Risk-averse versus risks are rewarded
  • Values stability versus values recoverability
  • Prefers turnkey solutions versus prefers best-of-breed pieces

You can augment this analysis with other qualification questions such as:

  • What is the likely job title and/or function of this individual?
  • What might be their biggest day to day concerns?
  • What drives them to succeed?
  • How might they describe themselves? (e.g., athlete, dad, boss, middle manager, engineer, banker, etc.)

Please remember that these are all assumptions that you are looking to disprove so the faster you can say something is true or false the faster you can hone in on your true customer so get as narrow as possible to start. I know that we all want to get to an answer quickly so we can start building or coding, etc. but the time you put in now will save you tremendous headache, heartache, money and time down the road. History bears this out. If you can put yourself in the mindset of the process being as or more enjoyable than the destination, the easier this will be.

Please note: we will tackle the interview process in the next post.

How to find your Target Customer

In most cases, you are looking to interview people that have the problem you have uncovered and are looking to solve it. They also lean towards new ideas, are flexible and patient as long as they feel you are in it with them. You will be surprised at the amount of folks willing to talk to you if you hit on something important to them. Conversely, if you cannot get 20 or so people to agree to talk to after much effort, that may be an indicator that the problem you are chasing is not very interesting to your identified constituency. You likely have to find a new constituency, tweak the solution or search for a new problem or some combination of these.

Here are some suggestions as to where to go first to try to find your target customer to interview:

  1. Ask your connections (family/friends/colleagues) to make introductions for you.

Here is a suggestion adapted from Lean Customer Development:

Dear ______,

I’m trying to learn more about how fashion retailers are embracing mobile apps for e-commerce. As a fashionista, I know you have a ton of connections with people in the fashion industry. Can you help me out by forwarding the message below to a few relevant folks?

For people who respond, I’ll be reaching out to set up a 20-minute phone call to ask about their current engineering process. It won’t be something that requires advance preparation; just hearing about their experiences would be a huge help for the project I’m working on. I’ve included a message below that you can forward:

Hi! My name is ________________. I am reaching out to learn more about how fashion retailers are embracing mobile apps to reach their customers. It would be incredibly helpful for me to hear about your experiences and ask you a few questions. It won’t take more than 20 minutes, and there’s no need to prepare in advance.

Can I schedule a call with you for sometime next week?

Thanks, [include your name and contact information]

 2. LinkedIn

I recommend that you focus on 2nd degree connections only. Since LinkedIn has a limit to the number of characters you can send here is another suggestion based upon my own experience:

Hi! My name is Bill Flynn.

After 3 decades in starting up and growing businesses as well as 8+ years as a business advisor, I am changing careers to help growth-oriented, open-minded business leaders of mid-market companies like yours transform their companies from good to exceptional.

This is accomplished by walking you and your leadership team through a proven, sustainable, straightforward framework and process to run the business. Tens of thousands of participating mid-market companies have grown significantly faster and more profitable within 6-24 months.

I am trying to learn more about what would drive these leaders to work with a 3rd party like me to assist them. Would you mind answering a 2-3 question survey? [URL]

Thanks – Bill

There are other places you can go as well such as:

  • Quora
  • Online communities
  • LinkedIn groups
  • Trade shows
  • Networking events
  • Chambers of commerce
  • Networking groups such as Provisors, Vistage and others

These are just a few ideas. I am sure you can identify a number of others as well that are specific to your target customer profile. If you put your mind to it and are creative, there is a broad array of options that you have to find people who are willing to talk with you.

I suggest you pick up the following books to get deeper knowledge of this process –Lean Customer Development and Nail it then Scale it. Much of this article was derived from these two great books on the subject.

Next time we will walk through the interview process so you are prepared when you get them on the phone or in person.

I look forward to your comments.

Be Exceptional!

To learn more about building your own One Page Strategic Plan visit or contact me at

Identify and Nail the Pain (#2 in a series of how to go from startup to scaleup – 3 min read)

In the first post of this series, we reviewed steps you can take before you begin launching your new venture.

The next step is to go out to the market you have identified and test your hypothesis.

As of now, if you completed the previous exercises, you have a sentence that describes your idea for a business. We now are going to turn that into a problem hypothesis and go about trying to disprove it.

This last sentence has come to a surprise to some founders I have worked with. I sometimes get funny, head-cocked looks when I state that your job as entrepreneur is to disprove your hypothesis. Most entrepreneurs do the opposite which may contribute to why 90% or so fail to turn their idea into a viable business.

There are reasons for this.

The most prominent is that if you try to prove your hypothesis you are likely to have cognitive bias. That is, to paraphrase Simon & Garfunkel. you only hear what you want to hear and disregard the rest. You also put the customer second and your idea first. One popular tell-tale sign is that you leave too many meetings saying, “They just don’t get it.” If you find yourself saying (or thinking) this, more often than not, you have the phrase correct but not the pronoun. “They” should turn to “I” or “we”.

When you set out trying to disprove your hypothesis you employ the scientific method and focus on the problem you are trying to solve instead of the idea you are trying to prove. For example, if one sets out trying to change an industry that is ripe for disruption versus trying to help one’s customers in a better and different way that is beneficial to all then one may be in for a long and painful journey. The goal is to fail fast, learn and try again until you nail the pain (or not).

With that as a backdrop, let’s take the next steps to finding a way to build a successful startup.

From the previous post, we have our business idea statement that has been shared with at least 10 people (at least 2 being strangers) so we feel pretty good about how we are articulating the idea. Now let’s try it out in the real world.

Identify Assumptions and Problem Hypothesis

The next step is to turn that business idea statement into a problem hypothesis similar to one of these statements.

I believe [type of people] experience [type of problem] when doing [type of task]. or:

I believe [type of people] experience [type of problem] because of [limit or constraint].

Here is how we get to a solid first hypothesis:

  1. Identify assumptions – The following is a simple exercise you can perform to facilitate this process. It takes about 15 minutes max.

Get some pens and sticky notes and set a timer for 10 minutes. Then start writing down all your assumptions about your customers, product, and partners – one per sticky note.

If you’re doing this as a group exercise (and I hope you are), don’t stop and discuss during the 10 minutes. The point isn’t to write what you think is correct; it’s to unlock the mostly unspoken assumptions in your head. Also, please note that there may be moments where you cannot think of anything. Please go the full 10 minutes. Conversely, you may also find there are moments when you cannot write fast enough as the ideas pour forth onto the paper.

Here is a list of prompts (taken from Lean Customer Development by Cindy Alvarez) to help you bring your assumptions to the surface:

  • Customers have _______ problem
  • Customers are willing to invest _______ to solve this problem
  • Stakeholders involved in using/ buying this product are _______
  • Partners involved in building/ distributing this product are _______
  • Resources required in building/ servicing this product are _______
  • If customers did not buy/ use our product, they would buy/ use _______
  • Once customers are using our product, they will gain _______
  • This problem affects our customers _______
  • Customers are already using tools like _______
  • Customer purchasing decisions are influenced by _______
  • Customers have [job title] or [social identity]
  • This product will be useful to our customers because _______
  • Customers’ comfort level with technology is _______
  • Customers’ comfort level with change is _______
  • It will take _______ to build/ produce this product
  • It will take _______ to get X customers or X% usage

Once the 10 minutes are up, put the sticky notes on a wall or white board and organize them into logical groupings. These groupings will help inform you for next steps.(Important: Do not worry about getting the list right or it being complete. You can always add, modify or remove items later.)

2. Identify your Problem Hypothesis – From above, we know that this is a simple sentence with three parts. Here is an idea on how to get to that one crisp sentence:

Identify the following:

  1. Who your customers are
  2. What problems and needs they have
  3. How they are currently behaving
  4. Which solutions customers will give you money for (even if the product is not built or completed yet)
  5. How to provide solutions in a way that works with how your customers decide, procure, buy, and use

Important: The narrower the answers the better as this will allow you to disprove your hypothesis more quickly. For example, it is faster to disprove that people with red hair, freckles and fair skin tan well than all people tan well.

Here are some Problem Hypothesis examples:

[Large dog owners] are unable to [find nutritious, affordable dog food] because [there are few alternatives where they typically shop].


[Home Builders] are unable to [build energy efficient homes at a reasonable cost] because [they can’t figure out the best combination of materials to achieve cost-effective energy solutions for the typical home buyer].

Congratulations, once you have completed these, you have taken two steps closer to realizing your dream. Next time, we will review ideas on how to target your ideal customer profile and begin preparing for the interview process to test your original hypothesis.

I look forward to your comments.

Be Exceptional!

5 quick steps to take BEFORE you launch your startup (5 min. read)

Sometimes we get so excited about our idea that we jump right in before thinking it all the way through.  Too many of us start a business or project or even a career before we know if that initial decision supports where we want to end up in 3, 5 or 10 years plus.

I think following these initial five steps before you do anything (and I mean anything) is quite helpful as it puts you in a solid frame of mind before you take the market or your life by storm.

N.B.  This post is derived from a previous post

Here we go!

Step 1 – Project 5 years into the future to create the ideal scenario for yourself

  1. Please take a piece of paper, fold it into 4 symmetrical boxes and write down the four most important areas of your life at the top of each square
  2. Then, write down how each of these categories would ideally manifest themselves were you to look back in five years.

For instance, let’s say Health was a category. You could say that (in five years’ time) you would be as healthy then as you were in your 30s, that you would run 3-5 miles every other day and swim 3 miles every week, your cholesterol would be within acceptable limits and so on.  Take a week (or less) to complete. I recommend that you do this in pen (or pencil) as the act of writing it down is a different and a more useful/visceral process than typing it out.  Also, please keep it in your desk or other accessible place so you can revisit it from time to time.

Here is an example of one that is already completed (this is NOT mine)

Once this is done, please think back into your work/job history and do the following:

Step 2 –  Review at least three past jobs from the following perspectives:

  • WHAT:  Name the job and the company
  • WHEN:  When and how long did you work there?
  • GIVE IT A GRADE  – A B C D or F

Write these all down and be completely honest with yourself.  This should inform your future by examining what worked in the past and what did not. This perspective may help you shape your future self in your next role/career.

Step 3 –  Review Strengths and Weaknesses

  1. Think about your strengths (about 3-5) –  VERY IMPORTANT – This one is a bit different from what we usually think about strengths.  These are not necessarily only what you are skilled at but what gives you energy during and after doing it.  You might not even be very good at it just yet but you love doing it. Write all those things down.
  2. Think about your weaknesses (about 3-5) – that is, things that give you less energy or you get bored doing and avoid or put off.  Ironically, you may be good at some of these things.

For instance, I am pretty good at networking but it is not something I enjoy.  I skew towards introvert so it is work for me to go to networking events and/or ask people to introduce me to others.  I am usually tired afterward and rarely look forward to them but know they are important to do.  However, when I do talk with new folks, I really enjoy learning about them and what they do.  If I find I can help them in some way, I am eager to do that as well.  Even better if I can get a lead, contact or idea from the interaction.

Step 4 – Create a Mind Map

This one can be fun as it is all about you and there are no wrong answers.  Here is what you can do:

  1. For 10 mins, write down on Post-it Notes everything and anything (do not discriminate – just let the thoughts flow) that comes to mind related to your business or other idea. –  use a timer.  It is important to write down each idea on a separate Post-it note.  You will find out shortly why that is. Go the full 10 minutes and know that you may have moments where you can think of nothing. Stick with it as you will also have moments where you cannot write things down fast enough. Invest the 10 minutes. It should prove worth it.
  2. Now you can organize the Post-its into groups where the individual items are connected around a similar theme – It is okay to add other ideas later as they come to you. It is also okay to have huge gaps as you will fill those in later as you notice them.  Do this on a large wall or some space where you can see all of the Post-it Notes in one area.
  3. Once you feel like you have sorted them into groups you can work with, determine first 2-3 groups you will work on but do not start them until you complete all 5 steps. You may have many groups and some orphans.  Do not worry about and definitely keep the orphans.  They may have value later.

  Now that this is done, put these items aside. We will come back to these in a bit.

Step 5(a)  – Create One Sentence that describes your business idea that meets the 3Cs – crisp, clear and compelling.

We are not going to start off with one sentence as that can be daunting so we will start on a slightly larger scale. There will be three steps with the final one being the one sentence.

  1. Start with one page – 400-500 words that describe the idea. Write down everything that comes into your head and try to keep it to one page and no more than 20 minutes to start.  Let that sit for a few hours or a few days if you would like.
  2. Now that it has marinated a bit, turn that into one paragraph.  Let that sit for a few hours or a few days if you would like.
  3. Now let’s turn that into one sentence. Make sure it is crisp, clear and compelling.  Once you have it in a place that you think it is ready to go, run it by one or two people that are not familiar with what you are doing to make sure they understand it.  You may want to have it follow the classical guidelines of What (it is), Who (it is for) and What (problem(s)) it solves.

For instance, here is my one sentence:  Catalyst Growth Advisors teaches mid-market CEOs and leadership teams the proven principles to build and maintain a scaling and thriving business and culture.

Now here comes the fun part.  Remember that your idea is just that – an idea. Do not get too emotionally connected to it at this point as it may not survive these conversations. Remember that your goal is to build a business that matters to you AND your customers – not one or the other but both!

Step 5 (b) – Share your one sentence business idea with at least 10 people to get their immediate feedback.

  • Read the sentence word for word.  Do not elaborate unless they ask. Get their initial reaction to your business idea – whatever it is.  DO NOT ASK THEM IF THEY THINK IT IS A GOOD IDEA!!  Just say that you are thinking of starting a business and you want to read this one sentence that describes the idea then shut up! :~) (N.B. 2-3 people MUST be strangers)
  • Listen, dig deeper, pay attention to more than words.  Once you get an initial reaction, ask questions to get as deep an understanding as possible. Write down everything you hear as you never know what may be useful later when you review your notes.

Take what you learn and update your Mind Map and One Sentence if necessary. Based upon the feedback, if your One Sentence has changed in a meaningful way, repeat Step 5(a + b).

If your One Sentence stays intact then revisit the groups you prioritized in Step 4 and keep them near but do not start doing anything yet as we have to now test your idea with your intended target which is the topic of the next few posts.

I know you are eager to DO something but remember things may have changed with this feedback.  By the way, you are DOING something.  You have done and are doing what most entrepreneurs never do and most of them fail. Different sounds like a better approach to me based upon history.

N.B.  Many entrepreneurs want to keep their idea a secret.   Unless you have come up with something where secrecy is warranted your risk is minimal.  Most you tell are focused on themselves and will not execute this idea as well as you since this is your passion, not theirs.

Pat Flynn gives a better explanation in his book if you want to look into this further.

Next week: How to identify and nail the pain you are addressing

Be Exceptional!

Entrepreneur’s step by step success guide from Start-up to Scale-up (1 min read)

Over the next few months, I will be providing a step by step process on how to go from a germ of an idea to, validating it, crafting a go-to-market strategy that is repeatable and then scaling a healthy and thriving business.  This journey will be a combination of my own experience (30 years, 19 businesses, 16 startups, 3 lessons learned) and many books, articles and successful CEOs that I have read, studied or worked with over 30 years of researching business success.

Here are the steps we will go through starting next week.  I will break down some of these steps into smaller chunks so they are easier to digest resulting in well over a dozen posts.  If there are areas that you believe I am missing, please let me know.

Before you Startup

  1. 5 quick steps to take BEFORE you launch your startup

Startup steps

  1. Identify and Nail the Pain
  2. Identify and Nail the Solution
  3. Go to Market Strategy
  4. Identify and Nail the Business Model

Bonus: Sample interview guide

Scale-up steps

  1. People – How to attract and retain the best people
  2. Strategy – How to create a truly differentiated strategy
  3. Execution – How to lead and drive flawless execution
  4. Cash – How to have plenty of cash to weather inevitable storms

See you next week!

Be Exceptional!

Giver, Taker or Matcher – which one are you? Which one has the best payoff in the short and long term? (4 min read)

Taker example

I had a manager once that told me that my next year’s sales quota would be almost 15X the previous year (from ~$4MM to over $50MM).  We had just grown ~4X from the previous year.  My first reaction was that this was a hugely aggressive target and asked him to show me how we got to that number as a company.  He had a spreadsheet that showed the month by month progress and was convinced that it was possible. I was skeptical but wanted to understand the whole picture.

After he gave me his rationale, as VP, WW Sales, I asked him the all important compensation question.   What would my commission structure look like? He said if my team hit the 15X number I would earn as much as I did the previous year.  The company would make tens of millions of dollars and I would make the same as last year with 5X the effort of the previous year.  BTW – It was a leveraged plan so if revenue was 7.5X over the previous year (or over $25MM – a $21MM increase), I would get nothing.

In another interaction, he also strongly advised me to hire someone that I did not want to hire as I thought the cultural fit was poor. I should have stood my ground even after I asked him to participate in the hiring process hoping he would see what I saw.  He did not and I acquiesced – my mistake.

The day he fired me, the reasons he gave were that we were not growing fast enough and that I did not hire well.  I am pretty sure he was a taker.

Takers are unique in that they feel compelled to take more than they give.  They put their own interests ahead of others.  They believe that the world is a highly competitive place and only the strong survive.  Therefore, they need to prove their competence, self-promote and make sure they get credit for their efforts. The typical taker is not cruel nor cutthroat but does practice self-protection as a primary goal.

Giver example

As I have been building my business recently, I have been introduced to many, many people who are helping me.  One generous person has stood out. He has provided me with opportunities to speak in front of appropriate audiences, introduced me to well over a dozen different people and has been extremely responsive and generous with his time.  He has not even hinted at wanting anything in return.  He continually asks what else he can do for me.  I am pretty sure he is a giver.

A giver is someone who thinks about how she can help others. She is generous with her time, energy, contacts, skills, ideas and knowledge.  Givers aren’t just Gandhi or Mother Teresa, they are regular working folk that act in the interest of others, share credit and help others to succeed. They believe in generalized reciprocity.  They are a rare breed in the workplace.

Matcher example

There is also a third type called a matcher who gives but expects to get a return of a commensurate amount.  If you are not able to hold up your end of the bargain or he does not feel that there is a fair trade of value then he is not willing to participate in the transaction.  This is the largest group in the workplace.

How giving can pay off in the long-term

One would think that the givers would be doormats and losers who are always at the back of the line and get the scraps from a sumptuous feast.  Recent research shows that this is true in the short term but over time the givers are the ultimate winners provided they are thoughtful in the giving process.

I read one study of medical school students who are arguably one of the most competitive groups you can find as the ultimate goal is to beat out classmates for scarce, coveted positions.  Those that were givers did poorly in the first year but as time went on and teamwork and collaboration became essential to succeed, the givers far outpaced their peers. It seemed that the other students remembered their sacrifice and assistance and were more willing to help and work with them as time went on.  The givers had some of the highest scores by the 6th and 7th year and their patients rated them more highly due to their empathetic “bedside manner”.

Avoid being a giver doormat

This is one of many, many examples I have come across in my research.  If you consider your career a marathon versus a sprint, the likelihood is high that being a giver is an advantage provided you come at the process in a particular fashion. That is, avoid becoming a doormat.

Here are a few ways that givers can avoid being doormats.

Sincerity Screening

To avoid being taken advantage of over and over again, givers should strive get to know the people around them and be diligent to look for clues of sincerity in conversation.  This information is key to knowing if the ones they help are givers, takers or matchers.  Takers can come off at first as givers and give an impression that they are not just in it for themselves.  This can sometimes be a smoke screen from the more socially adept takers among us.

However, in the course of getting to know them, find out more about them.  Ask them to describe their dreams, accomplishments and ambitions.  Do they share credit when talking about past successes or imply or directly state that they were solely or primarily responsible?  Do they consistently use pronouns such as I, me, and mine, during this type of conversation? If so, they are likely takers.

Another tactic to use is called generous tit for tat.

Generous Tit for Tat

Selfless giving while noble is very likely detrimental to the giver.  There is tremendous risk of being trod upon and walked all over.  The selfless giver can burnout quickly and become disillusioned over time.

In addition to sincerity screening, a giver can practice what has been called generous tit for tat.  Its principle tenet is to never forget a good turn and occasionally forgive a bad one.  A viable approach is that you start out cooperating and continue cooperating until your counterpart competes.

Generous tit for tat achieves a powerful balance of rewarding giving and discouraging taking, without being overly punitive. It comes with a risk though: generous tit for tat encourages most people to act like givers, which opens the door for takers to take advantage by competing when it is advantageous to them. However, it is important to note that in a world where relationships and reputations are visible, it’s increasingly difficult for takers to take advantage of givers.  It bears repeating that the key to this type of approach being successful is to make sure the giving and the taking are visible to all. This is paramount as takers will be careful to protect their reputations and standing in the overall community.

I encourage readers to keep this in mind as I believe most people are givers deep down – typically more so personally than professionally.  However, having generosity spill over into your business life can have long-term rewards professionally and psychically when done in a deliberate and thoughtful manner.

Each type has its pros and cons and depending upon your horizon and temperament, one may work better for you.  However, in the long run, being a giver can lead to much greater success.

Give it a try. :~)

Please note that this post was inspired and assisted by the writings of Adam Grant in Give and Take – A Revolutionary Approach to Success.

Be Exceptional!