Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Spam your bosses

I have a friend that works at a pretty large company that has a very strict atmosphere: tie at work, no lunch at his desk, monitored personal phone call use, etc. It's the kind of atmosphere that tends to strangle your soul and personality.

Recently though he's made an important discovery.

When he opens his mouth and voices his opinion, people listen, things get done better, and his bosses appreciate it. Now they keep giving him promotions and raises. It wasn’t always that way for him. He was stuck a bit before he found that he wouldn’t get in trouble for being more vocal or having educated opinions different from those around him.

I used to be completely stuck at work too.

When I got out of college, I went to work in information technology consulting as a "process" analyst. All that meant was I had to do non-technical things as it relates to technology. Like: gather requirements, form testing plans. This was very much not what I wanted to do.

I wanted to develop. I wanted to build useable and useful things. Not create documents and meetings.

But I was a chemical engineer in school. I didn't have the skills yet.

So I worked my ass off in my off hours developing things and trying out new projects. I had dialup at home, so I remember downloading floppy after floppy after floppy of the Java SDK to take home with me to install and learn on my home PC.

But it wasn't enough. No one really cared.

Things changed though when I just stopped caring what would happen to me at work for sharing my opinion.

My head was filled with ideas for projects maybe my company could be working on. Some of them were pretty out there. I had no idea if we had the resources to work on them, but they sounded promising. I always backed them up with a bit of market research and competitive analysis.

So these weren’t just ideas for "we need straws in the office kitchen" kind of thing.

Then I started looking in our enormous company directory. Who were the executives and partners who might care about some of these ideas?

Then I just started emailing them. I emailed dozens of them. "Hello, I saw you are head of such and such. I'm a new analyst and had this idea yada yada yada. People spent $X on this last year, and we could built ABC for our clients to accomplish XYZ."

Just like my friend above. I never got in trouble for this. Never. Some people ignored them. But more often I got replies and phones calls. Those replies led to someone talking to my current boss. They wanted to channel this. Not fire me.

I finally ended up getting a transfer to where I wanted to be. I was removed from "process" and put in the research and development group, a group responsible for shaping business decisions using new technologies. It wasn’t all roses over there :) but it was a HUGE step in getting out of a bad situation. One that was achievable because I stopped caring that other people might hate my ideas and opinions.

This technique has followed me to where I am now. But there’s definitely a pressure to stop putting myself out there. There’s "more" on the line. There’s more people who could be offended. But I realize, great things happen when you can push those worries aside.

Some recent examples of doing this today at Inkling. I've emailed Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz, Marc Benioff, Mark Cuban. And wouldn't you know, we've gotten meetings with Starbucks, Salesforce, a 6 note email exchange with Cuban. Not everything ends up in some kind of deal, but it's knowledge that's very helpful for us. And yep, sometimes it ends up in deal.

There's a wrong way to do this. I'm not encouraging being the sales guy I have calling and emailing me every single day right now from this company whose trial software I just signed up for. And the CEO of your 10,000 person company may not be the right person to send your idea on lunch and learns to. But you might be surprised at how receptive the 10 people you met with this morning might be. Or your boss. Or your bosses boss.

Give up the fear of what sharing your opinion is going to do. You'll be surprised where it can get you.

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