The Sweet Spot

There are many manifestations of the sweet spot.  Some examples:

Product Strategy
In this image, the sweet spot is avoiding competition while also focusing on what you do best. If you focus on the customer needs and ignore your own capabilities then you run the risk of failure to execute. If you only focus on what you can achieve, you might not find a market. If you drift too close to the competitors it creates other problems.

Sports
This image of a gold club shows how hitting the wrong part of the club yields a bad shot. There really isn’t alot of space for doing it right. You either hit the sweet spot or you have a lousy shot. I find tennis has the same effect.

Your Career
It’s tough to manage your career, but this chart shows how many people end up unhappy. Each circle is important and you need to balance them out.

 

Marketing
I’ve seen marketing go awry hundreds of times. My first product had terrible marketing despite being a good technology. I’ve also seen the opposite. The sweet spot is a balance.

One might argue that you can’t have it all. The sweet spot isn’t trying to magically be great at everything. It’s a worldview, an approach to life that says not to be extreme. Don’t just focus on one issue. Balance the issues out.

One might argue that this will lead to Jack of All Trades, Master of None syndrome. Although this is possible, I think it’s not a bad outcome. I love people who can do lots of things. Being a utility player, someone who can be flexible is important. That doesn’t mean you are bad at everything, but you don’t have to sacrifice other good things and obsess just about the one.

Balance in life, balance at play, balance at work.  That is the true sweet spot.

Managing Up, Down and Across

Career Phase 1 – Be Manageable
When you get your first job you need to work on being manageable. This means taking direction, taking feedback, working hard, being responsible for your work, taking pride in what you do. In the dawn of your career, this skill will make you valuable in an organization. No one likes a young worker who can’t take direction or isn’t responsible for their effort. There is no magic trick to this. You have to be open, honest and work hard.

Career Phase 2 – Manage Across
Managing across is about getting along with peers. It’s unlikely you will get promoted if your peers don’t like you. Managing across is about making friends, but it’s also about helping coworkers succeed. The best employees help their peers to succeed. They are called multipliers. They don’t just do work, they make other people more productive. Some magic here: take your peers to lunch. Break bread with people who don’t like you. Win them over. Ask how you could help them. Ask them for help on simple things. Ask their advice. Listen to their stories. Ask questions about the details they describe. Show interest and appreciation. Don’t be fake. Be a good coworker. If you think its fake to listen to someone’s stories then maybe you aren’t a good listener…YET.

Career Phase 3 – Managing Up
To move up in your career, you need to manage upwards. This is more difficult than managing across. Your boss has his/her own point of view, motivations, and strategies. They are trying to climb up the ladder as well. Managing up requires understanding how they frame decisions and the world. Fit into that frame. It’s not about sucking up. It’s about empathizing with what they are trying to do. Ask questions about how they frame the decision. Ask what you need to do to succeed. Secret magic: Never ask permission to do something you know is right. Asking permission is basically transferring risk from you to them. You can say, “But my boss said it was OK.” Bosses need plausible deniability. They have no incentive for you to try something risky on their backs. Don’t ask them to take on the risk. If you believe in it, then do it and come what may. If it fails, it fails. Take your lumps like a grown-up. If it succeeds, give credit to the boss. Managing up is taking responsibility for your actions and protecting your boss from risk or failure.

Career Phase 4 – Managing Down
Once you have a team of your own, you need to manage them. I would suggest reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Managing down is all about team building. This includes hiring people and developing them over time. Team fit is the #1 criteria in my mind for success. A poor fit will give you massive heartache. My first rule of hiring is “Don’t hire B+ people.” B+ people are everywhere. They are fine, they get the job done. Never hire them. Hold out for an A- or better. Take the stress and pain that comes from waiting for the right person. It’s much better than hiring the wrong person and regretting it. Optimize for culture fit. Also, be transparent with your team. Tell them when they are fucking up and when they did well. Give feedback early and often.

I could write tons of details on all the 4 phases, but I thought it would be helpful to have this framework.