Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Careers

Have your career goals changed, and what have you done about it?

In only 15 years of post-college work, I’ve already had three careers. Not coincidentally, my career goals and objectives have changed.

When I graduated from grad school at Georgia Tech in 2001 (yeah, I’m old), I was very focused on money.

My goal was to score a high salary and my objective was to make over $100,000 by the age of 30. If I didn’t achieve that, I would have considered myself a failure.

I was well on my way. At 26, I was a consultant getting paid $90,000.

Then I got bored of that shit and took a complete salary U-turn.

I took off for business school to get into the sports business industry. I made almost nothing for the two years I was in school (my internships were either for no or little pay), then landed a sports marketing job that paid a little more than half of what I was making as a consultant.

I was cool with working for less money. At this point, my goal was recognition. My objective was to make the SportsBusiness Journal’s 40 Under 40 list.

Whether I was on my way to that award was debatable, but I was doing pretty well in my gig at the Washington Capitals.

After 4.5 years, that job ran its course, and then I became an entrepreneur.

My objective isn’t quite as clear, and I do need to work on that. But my goal now is to build and grow a company.

Things have been ebbing and flowing over the last four years, and I’ve gone through the ups and downs of the startup and entrepreneurial life. But it’s where I want to be right now, and that goal still endures.

While I hate not achieving goals and objectives that I set for myself, I’m not upset that I didn’t achieve the ones I mentioned above.

My point of all this is that as we go through life, priorities change, and thus the same goes with our goals and objectives. And that’s cool.

As you assess your career, think about your priorities and where you want to be. If those are different from the goals that you set prior, it’s OK to write off those goals and make a change to pursue a new one.

Have your career goals changed, and what did you do about it? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

 

 

It’s not all about the numbers

numbers and metrics

Numbers and metrics are great because they provide cold, hard facts about what’s really happening.

But they don’t always tell the whole story.

I love the quote from Baruch College professor Aaron Levenstein, “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”

Hilarious and true.

It’s not all about the numbers.

In a past post, I mentioned how Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics used advanced analytics to scout players and find hidden gems. But that didn’t completely eliminate the need for traditional scouts who, with their eyes alone, can accurately assess players’ skills and potential.

Since I’ve been blogging more frequently, my readership numbers have gone up significantly.

That’s nice and all, but what’s been more satisfying is the higher level of engagement between me and my readers.

Many people have asked me about how my blogging is going, how they really liked particular articles, how some posts got them thinking, and how curious they are with my background.

Some have emailed me saying that they read my blog everyday and look forward to my articles.

The numbers can’t show that. And I would trade good metrics for that kind of engagement any day.

Bottom line is that while numbers are important and you should certainly keep your eye on them, they don’t always tell the whole story and aren’t always the most meaningful measurement.

What do you think about hard metrics vs. the softer stuff? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

Default to action

I recently interviewed a startup CEO for my podcast (episode coming out in a few weeks). When I asked the question, “What three traits or characteristics do you look for in people you work with?”, one of his answers was “I look for people who default to action.”

“Default to action” – I love it.

I think that’s such a concise summary of a powerful concept.

It’s tough to work with someone who needs a lot of handholding and guidance, especially in the startup world where there is so much going on. And in this particular case, the employees of my guest’s company work fully remote across multiple time zones, so the problem is exacerbated.

There is certainly a learning curve to many things and situations where direction is necessary. But overall, I’d rather someone take initiative under uncertain circumstances as opposed to waiting around for instruction and advice.

That person may not always get it right, but that’s OK. You live and you learn. At least they took charge and made something happen.

I chatted with a friend about his idea to start a podcast over four months ago, and recently talked to him again about it. All I heard was excuses of why he hasn’t launched yet. (Hey buddy, if you’re reading this, you know who you are!)

“I’m traveling soon and don’t want to start it yet.” Just start recording, dude.

“I might land a full time job soon, and I don’t want to start the podcast in case that happens.” Ya know, sorry to say it, you might also not land that job. So just start recording.

“I’m still in the planning phases.” Stop planning, start recording.

Buy a mic so it stares you in the face everyday that you don’t use it.

You’ll never know what will happen until you do it, do it.

Default to action.

What do you think about the term “default to action?” Have you had situations where defaulting to action was the right or wrong thing to do? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

“You either have it or you don’t” – that’s total BS

Nature vs. nurture. You’re either born with it, or you’re not. You either have it or you don’t.

Some think you’re born with skills like creativity, analytical thinking, and the ability to be an entrepreneur, and if you weren’t, well, too bad, you can’t learn them.

I completely disagree.

I think you can learn anything if you really want to.

I know people who were creative movie set designers who became analytical investment bankers. Once-timid software engineers who became outgoing sales people. Corporate lifers who became entrepreneurs.

I think the whole left brain / right brain phenomenon is BS.

I do believe that some people are more inclined toward creative or analytical roles. I think some have the personality that makes a better sales person or marketer. I think everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.

But I also believe that anyone can learn any skill, and they’re only limited to whatever they limit themselves to.

Sure, the learning curve in acquiring a new skill might be steep.

Someone who has been an interior designer for years won’t have an easy time learning computer programming, and vice versa. The learning process will absolutely suck.

It doesn’t mean it can’t be done, and it doesn’t mean that your “brain doesn’t work that way” if you’re not good at it in the beginning.

There’s no doubt you’re going to suck at anything to start.

But keep at something, and you can learn anything.

I think the quote “You either have it, or you don’t” should be changed to “You either have it, or you need to work to have it.”

What do you think? Have you acquire skills that you didn’t think you could? I’d love to hear your story.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

This is day 38 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

The Need-Want Gap: What Companies or Industries Need, They May Not Want

mind the gap

Those on the outside might see things that companies or industries need to improve and innovate. Those on the inside may not know they need these things. If they do, they may not want them.

That’s what I call the “need-want gap.”

A great example of this is portrayed in the book and movie Moneyball.

Because the Oakland Athletics couldn’t compete with other big-budget baseball teams for top players, general manager Billy Beane had to change the way players were scouted for the team to be competitive.

So Beane eschewed “gut feel” when scouting players and looked past traditional statistics like batting average, runs batted in, and stolen bases.

Instead, Beane focused more on advanced metrics such as on-base percentage and slugging percentage to scout and recruit players and find diamonds in the rough. He realized that these statistics were more important to winning than the traditional stats, which were more about vanity.

This analytics-based methodology, called Sabermetrics, was absolutely scrutinized, and Beane was chastised by old-school scouts and managers.

This approach is still criticized to this day, even though the Athletics have been competitive with a tiny payroll for many years, and the Boston Red Sox won a World Series shortly after implementing the system.

Many middling teams knew they needed something stay competitive, but they didn’t want this kind of solution.

The need-want gap.

This happens many other industries as well.

Large businesses that have been around for many decades plod along with their traditional products and business models while startups disrupt them. Many deny the fact that they are being disrupted. Case in point here and here.

Ambitious job seekers may see that these companies need fresh thinking and innovation, but those jobs just aren’t available because these companies are satisfied with their position and don’t want to change.

The need-want gap.

Politics and government. Energy. Construction. Media. Music. All of these traditional industries have been slow to develop new business models as technology impacts them immensely.

If you’re seeking a career where you want to make change in these old-school industries, you might find that your services and ideas aren’t welcome.

But if you’re persistent and have a vision for the change you want to enact, keep going. Companies in these industries will come around when they have to.

If you can convince them that change is good and necessary, you can shrink that need-want gap and make your mark.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

This is day 37 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Asking the right questions vs. giving the right answer

I love when people answer a question with an inquisitive question. For the most part, I think it reflects on the person’s curiosity and ability to think critically.

Of course, there are straightforward questions where this isn’t applicable.

There’s no arguing “What’s 2+2?” The answer is 4.

“What is the most populous country on Earth?” has only one correct answer – China.

But even a simple question like “What color is the sky?” needs some analysis. You could ask:

  • What’s the weather like?
  • Are there clouds in the sky?
  • Is there fog rolling in?
  • Is it day or night?
  • Etc.

That’s kind of a lame example, but you get my point.

Many questions are situational, and answering these questions takes thinking through the scenario and analyzing the consequences of actions.

That’s why consulting firms use the case interview to assess their job candidates. The ability of candidates to analyze the problem, ask pertinent questions, and devise a solution in real time are extremely valuable skills.

This is similar in the startup world as well.

Of course, the ability to ask insightful questions is valuable for startup founders to determine the best candidate for the job.

But it’s also very important in assessing advisors, investors, partners, and others.

These people should be asking good questions to better understand your customers, market, business model, and other issues your business is facing.

Whenever I am asked questions by startup founders and entrepreneurs, whether the person is someone who is just launching their company at a Startup Weekend event or is the founder of the startup I’m advising, I always try to take a step back, think about what I’m being asked, and devise relevant follow-up questions to truly understand the issue at hand so I can add as much value as possible.

Some find it annoying when people answer a question with a question. I find that its usually the start of an interesting conversation with someone smart and intellectually curious.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

This is day 36 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

What’s your story?

Everyone has a story to tell.

And everyone should get good at telling stories, whether it’s their own, their product’s, or their company’s.

Stories are what allow you to engage people and form a connection. The underlying theme of your story tells others who you are, what you’re all about, and why they should trust and believe you.

Even if you don’t have a cohesive story, there is a story behind that.

I was recently a guest on another podcaster’s show and I realized that my career story, primarily over the last 3.5 years that I’ve been an entrepreneur, is a bit jumbled.

I’ve worked on two startups that never made substantial progress. I was an independent consultant while working on those startups. I’ve volunteered for Startup Weekend while working on my startups and consulting. I blogged during all that. I launched a podcast. I stopped consulting and am now working full-time with my startup co-founder’s software development firm.

What the hell?

My story is hard to follow. It probably seems chaotic and messy; that’s because it is. I don’t have a cohesive story.

But that’s OK, because that’s part of my story.

The underlying theme of my story is focused around startups, and my story is that I’m on a continuing journey to figure all of this stuff out.

Startups and entrepreneurship don’t take you on straight paths, and my recent career is living proof.

I certainly have doubts about how my story will end, but I chose this path, and this story become part of who I am.

So what’s your story? Is it cohesive? If not, what’s the story behind that?

This is day 30 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days. I did it! 🙂

What’s your superpower?

What’s that one skill or characteristic that makes you different and/or better?

What thing do you do so well that makes you stand out from the crowd?

If you can identify it, awesome.

If not, you’re not alone.

My guess is that most people don’t even think about what their superpower is. And for those who do, many can’t come up with one, or just haven’t figured it out yet.

Some people may discover what they’re good at when they’re very young.

There are stories where 8-year olds learn how to code and become badass software developers for life. Or a 10-year old opens up a lemonade stand and learns how to sell at a young age, then she leverages that skill to achieve a successful career and life. Or a cute kid gets casted for a commercial and becomes a movie star when he grows up (if he can avoid the drugs and mental issues along the way).

I’m not one of those people. I have a couple of hypotheses on what my superpower is, but I can’t quite pinpoint it just yet. And that’s OK.

I believe most people need to subject themselves to a wide array of experiences to truly discover what their superpower is. They need the proper motivation and mentorship to push themselves to find this unique skill or characteristic, and they need to find the right situation and circumstances to flourish.

A better way might be to ask other people what they think your superpower is.

You may think that you’re good at something, and that might be true. But others will have a more objective point of view of your skills and personality and may be able to better identify your superpower.

However you go about it, I think it’s very important to eventually discover your superpower so you can leverage it to the best of your ability in everything you do. If that one skill or trait is truly your superpower, it can take you a long way in your career and life.

So I ask you, have you discovered your superpower yet? If so, what is it, and how did you identify it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

This is day 29 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days. I’m almost there!

The duality of stress and fear

Stress and fear are typically considered bad, negative things.

A stressful job can lead to burnout, a stressful relationship can lead to a break up, and a stressful, traumatic event like a mugging or theft of your home can lead to emotional problems.

Fear is similar. A fear of failure might keep you from taking chances, a fear of bugs may keep you up at night, and a fear of death might keep you locked up in your house all the time.

Stress and fear can be extremely powerful motivators as well.

The stress of a looming deadline can get you going and force you to do your best work. Sometimes you need that pressure to step up your game.

Fear and paranoia that your competition is catching up to you can motivate you to work that much harder. Even if you’re #1 in your market, fear that the little guy might out-innovate you is a healthy thing that will help you continually improve.

But if the healthy stress and fear are taken too far, they’ll turn into the unhealthy stress and fear.

If you often leave too little time before project deadlines, the repetitive and constant stress won’t be good for your health or career.

If you fear your competition too much, you might take too many unnecessary risks to stay ahead.

Finding that balance where stress and fear leads to optimal performance is the key.

This is day 28 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Should you follow your passion?

A lot of people say that if you follow your passion, you’ll never work a day in your life.

Successful actors claim they followed their passion, and their love for acting helped them get through the hard times until they found success.

Entrepreneurs are ALWAYS saying to follow your passion, work hard, buck the trends, and you’ll achieve your goals.

I’m not so sure I completely agree.

I certainly think following your passion is a good thing to do for your career. But it’s only one part of the equation.

A job or career is made up of many factors to consider. You have to consider the subject matter and function of your job, the skills that you have, the people you work with, whether you can live on the wages you make, and so many other aspects.

Let’s go back to the acting example.

You might love acting. You crushed your role in that local play. But if you move out to Hollywood and find out you’re only good enough to act in GoGurt commercials, you’re probably going to start to hate acting after a while.

If you’re passionate about baking brownies, should you immediately open up a bakery? Sure, you might love and be good at baking, but running a bakery is much more than just baking.

A personal example is when I followed my passion for sports into a short but solid career in that industry.

The subject matter was sports, which I was very passionate about. But I wasn’t going to take any job function in the sports industry; I was looking specifically for a marketing or strategy position. I didn’t want to do sales, finance, or HR, because I had no interest in those functions and I probably would have sucked at them.

I wound up landing an awesome marketing job with the Washington Capitals.

Even then, after a few years, the job just ran its course and my passion for it dwindled. I wanted to build a business from the ground up and take something from zero to one.

Bottom line is that there are so many factors that make up a job or career that following your passion isn’t going to solve every career issue you may have.

It’s a sobering thought and not very positive, but it’s realistic.

When considering a career move, you should certainly think about what you’re passionate about. But you should also think about what you’re good at, where you can add the most value, how this career will impact other parts of your life, and many other factors.

That’s why I think “follow your passion” isn’t the best career advice to give.

Thoughts?

This is day 26 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.