Career, Learning, Life Hacks, On Writing

Be right when someone asks.

Lemonade Stand
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/billynata/5053274054/

This essay is written as part of the Startup Edition project – check out the other essays here.

Think.

When was the last time you were right? Absolutely, positively certain with no chance of being wrong. Now, think of the last time you knew you had the answer, and someone asked you to be right? How did that feel?

If there’s one lesson I could share with young entrepreneurs (and with my younger self), it would be that you should only try to be right when someone asks you for that absolutely certain answer. The rest of the time, be nice – wait for your moment until you get asked the question you’ve been anticipating.

Can you gather facts? Sure. Can you prepare persuasive arguments? Absolutely. And until someone’s listening, those facts and arguments don’t matter much.

What does it mean to be right at the wrong time?

Being right doesn’t prove you’re smart – it often proves that you are impatient and can’t wait for the right moment to make your point and back it up with the information the other person or people need to understand. Being right also doesn’t make you right in a given situation (sounds strange, right?)

Compare and contrast the feeling of blurting out the right answer in a crowd that hasn’t asked for it yet against the feeling of being just the right person to answer just the right question at the moment it’s asked. Answering the call for an important question can be an amazing feeling – you get to show how smart you are, you know you’re solving an important problem, and you know someone actually wants to hear the answer.

On the Importance of Timing

Wait, you say. Aren’t some of the most important questions the ones that haven’t yet been asked? Yep. That’s true also. And if you can manage to lead an individual, a group, or an audience to ask you the question that you know how to answer and help them to feel that it’s their question? That’s charisma – the ability to lead and inspire without the implication of being a know-it-all – and it’s a great goal to pursue.

There are other lessons young entrepreneurs need to learn. These are ideas like “do more of what you love,” “hang out with lots of smart people and interesting things will happen,” and “don’t spend too much time at big companies without also talking to people at small companies.” You’ll find lots of these ideas (and the ones that work for you) by continuing to learn and meet new people.

When you meet new people and want them to listen to your ideas, answer the questions they ask. If they haven’t answered the question you wanted to ask yet, guide them to ask it. You’ll be happier when you see the spark in their eyes as you enthusiastically answer the right question.

This essay is written as part of the Startup Edition project – check out the other essays here.

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