Sunday, September 6, 2009

Learning hard stuff the easy way

My 9 year old daughter told me recently that she wants to "do something." When I asked her to clarify she said, "I want to get a job." Now that was interesting. I stifled the urge to laugh (because I can hear her as an adult saying how she wishes she didn't have a job, but I digress) and discussed it with her in a serious fashion. We decided that she could put her great imagination to use and start a "clothing line" that she would sell through CafePress.com or a similar site.

I will proudly state that my 9 year old is extremely intelligent and has the vocabulary of a 15 year old, but even that doesn't mean she would automatically "get it." So, for several nights after she expressed her desire, we spent some time each night talking about concepts like product design, marketing, and sales. What I found was that I had to put an extraordinary effort into internalizing the functions of business so that I can synthesize new ways to describe them to a 9 year old.

In other words, the KISS principle applies here in spades.

Guy Kawasaki, a well-known venture capitalist, has a concept he calls the 10/20/30 Rule of Powerpoint. In short, he states that a Powerpoint presentation should be no more than 10 slides, last no longer than 20 minutes, and contain no fonts less than 30 points in size. While I won't debate the merits or flaws in the concept (I will state unequivically that I love it, however), I do want to point out that it encourages the same, simplified thinking through deconstruction of complex topics.

Can you put together a 10/20/30-compliant presentation that describes your work experience and skillset? You better turn off the Autofit feature before beginning, because I suspect you'll have trouble doing so. In fact, I'll claim that if you don't have trouble doing so then you aren't doing it correctly.

Is this just an exercise of futility? Absolutely not. By forcing yourself to distill what you do and have done into a succinct, summarized format, you really learn to throw out the irrelevant crap and polish up the stuff that helps you to shine. Extrapolate this exercise into other areas of your professional life, and you'll quickly begin to see what's important to you as a salesperson, a market strategist, a technologist, etc.

Esther Schindler
wrote in a recent article on the topic of "getting resumes past HR" (geared toward technologists), "That is, [the recruiter told me], 'Create a resume that a layperson will understand. Yes, include the technologies used and maybe a bit about your methodology, but make sure it's readable to the point that a non-techie friend can get the gist of what you've accomplished in each job. Keep that tech-oriented résumé for the hiring manager to review.' "

So if we're to boil down our backgrounds to just the bare essence, what do we do with the rest of it? It belongs in the magical circular file cabinet underneath your desk that gets emptied every night.

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