Take a risk and sound dumb

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Let’s face it. Most CTO’s and programmers are introverted. It’s the rule rather than the exception. There’s nothing wrong with being humble, but sometimes you have much more to give than you realize.

Stop for a second and consider your internal dialog – the ideas and thoughts that whiz around your brain. Then think about what actually comes out of your mouth. See the difference? It might be a ratio of 1000:1, brain to mouth. But I’ve learned to bring that ratio down. I discovered that it’s okay to take a risk and sound dumb. And you know what? Typically, the only one that thinks you sound dumb is you yourself. The rest might even be dumbfounded. When you unleash that inner dialog, you become a force to contend with.

Warren Buffett used to be terrified of speaking in public. He said, “You’ve got to be able to communicate in life, and it’s enormously important. Schools, to some extent, under emphasize that. If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential.”

My dinner with Wharton grads anecdote

One night an investor friend of mine invited me to a Wharton School of Business alumni dinner. It was a small, private event of about 15 people – very fancy. Professor Peter Fader speaking. He’s a major voice in the concept of Customer Centricity which stresses the importance of applying data to give your core clients the most attention possible. I ended up sitting next to the guy and engaged him in conversation.

As the evening passed, I came more and more out of my shell. We shared about our MIT experiences, ideas about machine learning, AI and so on. Then I made a fatal error. I uttered the word “irregardless”. Now there’s considerable debate as to whether or not this is even a word. At an intimate table of Ivy League grads, someone surely noticed how illiterate I was. Even though I suffered horribly wishing I could reel that word back into my mouth, I pressed on with the conversation.  

Still, I was super embarrassed – being the shy, introverted computer nerd deep down. Of course later, I Googled the heck out of the word trying to justify it’s use. It took me two days to get over it. Typical, right? You see, as tech minded people, mistakes are glaring to us. But still, over 80% of my conversation with Professor Fader was amazing.

Suddenly, I’m the expert?

At one point the conversation focused on a big concern for Wharton in that they’ve never received a $100 million donation. Many other Ivy League schools have. In fact, Wharton hasn’t even cracked $40 million despite having alumni that have that level of giving power. So I’m sitting there listening to this group of Wharton grads – many of them renowned marketing gurus – lamenting over the situation. Then I spoke up.

I asked what the marketing professors at Wharton think about this. I asked if they’ve tackled this process head on. I asked, “Have you analyzed the data? How much are you spending on getting donations? What methods are you communicating with? What’s your content like? What color? What’s the competition doing? Where’s the written analysis about the situation? Why isn’t Wharton using it’s own know-how in order to turn this situation around? These are $100 million dollar questions unanswered by the top business minds in the country. C’mon, you can do better than that.” They all stared at me, dumbfounded.

Share your value at all times

Go ahead, take a risk. Israeli judo pioneer and champion Arik Ze’evi says, “Those close to you will be afraid you’ll fail. Others that you’ll succeed. Suddenly, you’ll see a guy doing exactly what you wanted to do, and it opens up the gate for everyone.”

Make friends with people. Help them, even your boss. Stick next to them and they’ll pull you up. Remember, there’s a beast inside you with a bold internal dialog. Learn to unleash useful information, and people will appreciate it. If you think you have something worthwhile to say, then say it. Irregardless of how you imagine they’ll react.

Playing nice with others

Now let’s say you’re the CTO or project manager. When you’re the boss, remember this golden rule:

Ask people what they think instead of telling them what to do.

I once had a developer that implemented a validation not included our project spec. The change came about due to a verbal conversation we had about a business aspect of the project.

To be honest, I was livid when I spotted this. I never asked for the validation. When I went to demo the product, the validation made the demo useless. Thankfully, I resisted the desire to chew him out. Instead, I sent him a message saying, “Hey, I saw the new validation. Interesting. Was it in the spec?”

“No. I based it on what you told me the other day,” my developer answered.

“Oh, my bad. Thanks.” I replied. “You know what? When I demo the product, the validation kind of gets in the way. What do you think, should we write new demo code?”

“No, that doesn’t make sense,” he answered. “Let’s roll back the validation.”

See how that works? So instead of being bossy, I used dialog. He got to express his view and we came to a consensus with all players intact.

Good vibrations

Now you can be a tyrannical ogre and push projects to completion, but you’re probably not efficient. Also, happy people who feel respected give your their best. Plus, the best talent tends to stick around where the atmosphere is positive and uplifting. Repressed persons will produce only what keeps them out of trouble. Big difference.

So hire people smarter than you, and let them tell you what to do. It works like a charm.

Leverage others experience

Looking to speak up? Want to give a talk at a conference or address your team more confidently? The people at the top in life are always working, growing and improving with the help of others. I have experience that you can leverage. If you don’t use me, use someone else. The point is for you to get what you want immediately, don’t wait. Set an appointment with me and tell me about your situation so I can help. Click this link to reach out. Something else on your mind? Whatever you need, I’m here. Life is meant to be done together, just reach out.

This post comes from my upcoming book, Modern CTO. Pre-register for a copy here.

Joel Beasley

Joel Beasley founded the Modern CTO Podcast in 2017 while writing his book, the Modern CTO book, with the goal of interviewing CTOs and sharing their experiences with others in the tech community.

Joel’s conversational style and insightful questions quickly gained traction, attracting high-profile guests such as Microsoft’s CTO, Kevin Scott, and T-Mobile’s CIO, Cody Stanford. With each episode, the podcast’s popularity continued to grow, and soon, Joel found himself with a waiting list of future guests.

Today, the Modern CTO Podcast has become the number one leadership and tech podcast in the world, with over 150k active listeners, including CTOs, lead developers, and rising tech leaders. Joel’s commitment to creating a conversational atmosphere for his guests to share their experiences has inspired a new generation of leaders and innovators.

As the success of the podcast grew, Joel founded ProSeries Media, a podcast production company that helps companies worldwide create their own podcasts. With a team of producers, content creators, and podcast bookers, ProSeries Media produces over ten shows, providing a platform for companies to connect with their audience and share their expertise.

Through his work on the Modern CTO Podcast and ProSeries Media, Joel Beasley has become a respected voice in the tech industry, inspiring others to share their knowledge and insights with the wider community. His passion for creating engaging content that informs, inspires, and entertains has made him a sought-after speaker and advisor on all things tech.

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