Think in Weeks, Not Years
January 03rd, 2006 - 10 Comments
Trying to strike a deal with a big company is like inviting Hulk Hogan to smash a diamond-tipped rock against your head for 57 days straight. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been in a Monday meeting, we’ve finally agreed on some minor action item for the next step (like the company employee sending me a 2-paragraph project timeline), and then she neatly stacks her papers and says, “I’ll get that to you by next Friday.”
It’s Monday today. Next Friday is 10 business days away. WHY!???????!??!
Lots and lots of people in big companies move slowly, and what should actually take 10 minutes takes 2 weeks. Sometimes, there’s a reason for this–usually, Person 1 is waiting on Person 2, etc. But just as often, there’s no incentive to work very quickly. For example, when I worked an 10-week internship one summer, I finished my project in a week and a half. One of my friends did the same thing and, when he had his next internship, he didn’t make the same mistake again. And so many fulltime employees also don’t work as quickly as they should–understandably so.
But you know how everyone in business says “think outside of the box”? Although this is one of the phrases I hate most, one easy way to do that is in your response time: If someone says “Can you get that to me by next Friday?” you’ll be shocked at the response if you say “I’ll get it to you by the end of today.”
Week-long deliverables, or an ass kicking
My little brother is a freshman at Stanford and he’s trying to start a company. Good man!!! Anyway, to do this, he went around to a few people, asking for their thoughts, and Noah took the time to sit down and give his advice. My brother and his business partner explained the ideas they were thinking about, and Noah helped them work through it.
At the end of the meeting, Noah said something simple that stuck with them (and me): “You better come back to me in 1 week and have something done, or I’m going to kick your ass.”
What eloquence. What motivation. But seriously, I love it. 1 week–that is actually a long time. For a 2-man project, that’s enough time to think an idea through, check the competition, and have a prototype (even a simple drawing on paper!!). It’s enough time to check where competitors have succeeded/failed and change strategy. And it’s enough time to deliver something tangible the next week.
Stupid high-level goals are useless
A lot of times we create huge overarching goals (“I want to create the best social network in the world!!!!”) with no clear next steps. If you are trying to do anything even moderately complex and you don’t have a plan for what should happen in the next 7-14 days, then you are a fool. Also, you’re creating an easy barrier to getting it done. It’ll be easy to look back in 3 months and wonder why nothing got done. The answer, as every mom in America has said, is “you asked for it.”
Thinking faster–in weeks, not years–is relevant to so many things. When you ask someone what they want to be, and they say “Well, I really want to be an entrepreneur/agent/sports writer but first I’m going to go be a consultant, then go back to business school, and then do it,” I always wonder why I want to curse out loud but am constrained by social norms. How can someone wait 10-15 years to do what they really want?
My friend Gabe decided to do something differently. He wanted to be an agent, so instead of planning to do what he wanted 10 years down the line, he just started doing it today. He represented a few people (including me), and now has a job as a headhunter in San Francisco.
This whole idea of thinking in short-term time periods occurred to me when the New Year rolled around and we started talking about their resolutions. When people make these resolutions–which we fail to honor so frequently that the whole idea has become America’s inside joke–do they plan for some general goal (“Get in shape!”)? Or do they say, “I’m going to stay in touch with friends and family by making 15 phone calls by January 7th?
Ok. I’m not going to belabor the point. Think faster, not slower. Think specifically, not broadly. And to show that I mean business… (read next post).
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