Tuesday’s post about constructive criticism (Constructive Criticism Gone Awry (As a Receiver)), especially my “unappreciative” reception, made me think about business and sales. In many ways, giving and receiving constructive criticism is similar to selling.
  • The lack of understanding (and lack of trying to understand) lost me as a receiver.The man offering the criticism came in with a solution based off a few brief observations. He did not realize that the gym is a very important place for me – my “safe haven”. As such, speaking at the gym, to me, is unwanted.
  • The validity of the man’s constructive criticism was derailed early from a misunderstood position. Again, without understanding what was happening, the man stated I was being rude by not facing another man – the chiropractor. He did not observe how I was pointing and craning my neck in various positions while talking to a knownchiropractor. How quickly, then, I dismissed his observation.
  • The lack of empathy creates friction and defensiveness. I want to hammer home this point – for successful criticism, product, or service [sale], empathy is imperative. Being a 3rd party observer, the perspective can be objective. However, coming in with a harsh hypothesis can create unwarranted tension – hypotheses such as being rude, the business prospect’s process is broken, etc. Influence without empathy falls on deaf ears.

As a receiver of constructive criticism and a prospect for many products and services, I get it. I want to be the best version of myself. For my company, I want us to excel. That means I am open for feedback and useful products or services. Approach tactfully and with empathy.

Prefacing today’s post saying I appreciate and even look forward to constructive criticism. Deep-rooted in me is a competitive strive to be the best version of myself, so constructive criticism is welcome.
Recently, an acquaintance offered me constructive criticism that I did not, however, appreciate. Summarizing the incident:

Man walks up to me in the gym while I’m working out with my buddy, and asks, “Daryl, can I offer you some constructive criticism?” 

Me: “Sure.” 

Man: “Well, I’ve been noticing lately when you’re talking to people, you’re not turned facing them. You’re facing another way, which can be rude. It doesn’t show that you’re paying attention to them.” 

Me: “Oh, okay.” 

Man: “Daryl, I like talking to you. I know we’re in here working out, but lately, I’ve just noticed you doing this, and I know you don’t mean it. However, it comes across as you not caring.” 

Me: “Hmm, sorry to hear that. Were you just noticing me talking to [Man Y] of there?”

Man: “Yes.” 

Me: “Oh, well, you know, [Man Y] is a chiropractor. I was talking to him and showing him my neck. You see, I’ve had a hurt neck the last several weeks, so I was showing him where I was having pain from the front and giving him the side perspective when it hurts.” 

Man: “Oh, yes, he’s a chiropractor, isn’t he?” 

Me: “Yeah… and yes, I’ve realized I’m not facing people so much these days. Honestly, I also made a conscious effort to not talk to people in the gym the last month. Ever since I hurt my neck, I’ve just wanted to concentrate on my rehab and recovery.” 

Man: “Oh, yeah, the neck is not a good place to be hurt.” 

Etc. etc.

I reflected on this encounter a lot after this – I was bothered. I realized the following:
  • I value relationships hugely, so when someone tells me I am being rude, that’s a bigdeal. I want people to value and enjoy interactions with me, not walk away feeling I thought less of them.
  • As much as I want constructive criticism, it must come from a place of empathy. The man might not have realized my neck injury over the last weeks, but surely, he would have noticed me articulating my neck with a known chiropractor. Meanwhile, knowing how important the gym was to me and my normal “do not talk to me, I’m focused” attitude was heightened. A probing question would have put us both on equal footing with a bit of empathy for what was going on.
  • Though there are clues that would indicate my focus and temperament, I do what I feel is needed that I best for me (i.e. earbuds in, focused look, on a timer). However, all of my actions can be interpreted differently by others. I have to be cognizant and comfortable with how I act, why I act, and what others may perceive.

Constructive criticism is great, but it can be tough deliver effectively. I completely agree with the man on how facing people while talking is respectful; while not doing so is rude. I also agree that I probably have done this quite a bit recently. However, I also felt annoyed and misunderstood due to what I knew I wanted – to heal, to recover, and to still challenge myself physically.

Days after this reflection, I can’t say I have changed much in how I approach my workouts. I’m still intensely focused. If someone walks up to me, I will face them. Though, if my watch beeps telling me my rest period is up, I will need to speak up and let the other person know I need to keep going. It’s the truth, and I hope s/he will understand.
Also, it’s great when I have people around me who will give me constructive criticism. It shows I have people around me who care and want me to be my best self, too.
The last couple weeks, I’ve found myself less busy at work. That’s not to say that there isn’t anything to do at work. There’s always a sale to be made, of course. However, I admit that my afternoons have been less busy given my mornings have been highly focused. Perhaps this is why a LinkedIn article by author Benjamin Hardy resonated so well with me – “This Morning Route will Save You 20+ Hours Per Week”.
Hardy argues that peak performance occurs when people work 3-5 hours per day – far from the dogmatic 8 hours. He continues by sharing how the first 3 hours of the day are the most productive for folks according to  psychologist Ron Friedman in the Harvard Business Review.
Not saying that I’ve somehow stumbled on this currently, or that I’ve found myself hitting Hardy’s magic 3-5 hours per day. After all, I also work out most days within my first 3 hours of waking up.
Instead, I’ve realized there are certainly days where I am hugely productive and creative for 8-10 hours. But after several weeks of this, I am fatigued and need long periods to recover. These days, I believe I’ve hit a great stride of less hours of work but being highly focused. [This morning I created some great sales collateral in –yep—3 hours.]
The other key elements I havestumbled on that Hardy mentioned include protecting my mornings and detaching during non-work hours. For the former, I find myself preparing for the day by getting up 530AM. At this time, I’m either working out or reading. I protect these morning rituals by ensuring my nights start early.
For detaching during non-work hours, I do other things important to me –okay, 85% of the time. This includes doing yoga, reading, or watching the occasional Netflix show. I’ve gone so far as to also block out my calendar specific days and times to be completely off. Completely off times = social time or simply my time.
Everyone is different, but the concepts and lessons are applicable – know what works for you and hold those priorities as sacred.
I just finished the book the Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. It’s a classic – expressing the key to developing mental fortitude using tennis as the vehicle.
The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey
I was intrigued about the book after Tom Brady cited it as a key reading for him in developing mental strength. This was cited in an interview after Brady orchestrated the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, coming back from 28-3 to defeat my Atlanta Falcons 34-28.
Being a competitive athlete (less so on a team these days and more in “self” settings) and an entrepreneur, developing mental strength is an ongoing practice. The pressure athletes like Tom Brady and great entrepreneurs face on the brink of failure (listen to any number of episodes of NPR’s “How I Built This”) is astonishing. Being able to keep going and overcome obstacles and have ­grit is hugely interesting to me.
Without further ado, here are my main take-aways from Gallwey’s Inner Game of Tennis:
  • Self 1 vs. Self 2. Gallwey points out the inner battle between the mental (Self 1; read: mind) and the “human” side (Self 2). A good illustration of this is when striking a ball with the racket, the human body and brain are smart moving in a way to strike the ball. However, when the ball is not struck well, a player can be frustrated – yelling at himself to strike it better. From here, the player’s mind (Self 1) is now in control with much focus on how to strike the ball which only motivates the player to keep thinking too much about how to strike the ball. This prohibits the natural learning process of the body & mind (Self 2) to make the right adjustments.
  • The “natural self” (Self 2). Gallwey points out how each person is the perfect version of himself or herself. However, the mind gets in the way trying to be “better”. The natural self, however, knows how to improve. Gallwey points out how young children learn how to crawl, walk, talk by themselves. Children’s minds do not interfere and try to teachthe body how to walk. Instead, the body moves, learns, adapts, and tries again.
  • Reviewing the self. As a tennis instructor, Gallwey used to instruct his clients how to swing. Most of the time, however, players would already know what they would need to do. They still did not do it. Then, Gallwey instructed players to watch their reflections in how they strike the ball. The players watched and realized how they should swing their rackets – it was not any different from what instructors had said. However, this gave clients the ability to self-assess and visualize the proper way of swinging. No other coaching was needed. Their movements would improve on their own.

I appreciated Gallwey’s book identifying Self 1 and Self 2. Unsure if there were many more take-aways that others would get out of the book. However, my focus points were about the need to bifurcate the mind from what the player (the true self) knows what to do. Overthinking is all too common which can paralyze the player.

In everyday practice in the business world, this appears when I, especially, can get caught up in how to perform sales calls. I know what I need to do, but developing and sticking to specific scripts makes me overthink. This, then, prohibits a natural conversation with prospects.
Check out the book, and see what you pick up. I’m sure you will also focus on Self 1 and Self 2. However, there may be other lessons from the book that resonate deeper than the concept of the bifurcated Self.
A good way to discern if a product or service is a need to have is to see what happens if it breaks or is no longer available. Would customers come kicking and screaming? Or, would the day pass by with little to no utterance? (No, not advocating you deliberately break your product.)
Of course, there’s another effect that can be much harder to realize – how effective was the product or service the first time that additional sales were not necessary. Or, there’s a much longer time between sales that effect can be harder to discern outside of problems.
You can count companies with fantastic quality such as Toyota, a great mattress company, Terminex (or other pest extermination companies), etc. In these cases, referrals and customer satisfaction records may hint at the lasting effects of products and services. Feedback is paramount to the growth of these companies.
Lasting effects is a big deal. They require quality. They require an emotional tie-in to be remembered. They require empathy for the customer to know what is needed. Products, services, and even relationships – personal and professional – require a strict focus on lasting effects.
Consider the lasting effects of the product or service as a measure of success. Consider succession.
Why isn’t an idea already in the market and being successful? Maybe the key question is, “why isn’tthis idea working?”
A good way to tackle a new business idea is to think about the objections. That is, think about why problems exist today – what are their hurdles? Why hasn’t this idea been developed already? How is this problem being addressed today, and how did the market get here? How can these challenges be overcome?
Addressing these challenges (read: objections) is similar to approaches in brainstorming methods such as the Disney way and Six Thinking Hats.
When you ask these types of questions, you might find out macro trends are removing hurdles – maybe, then, it’s great timing for success. For Instagram, for example, anyone with a smartphone almost instantly became talented photographers. For Instagram, the technological evolution of cameras in smartphones lowered the barrier for general consumers to have “good” cameras. Instagram capitalized on this opportunity further by providing filters. These filters enabled everyday photographers to alter and beautify pictures, much like professional photographers could do before.  
Addressing how traditional models operate has made countless companies successful – finding ingenious ways to alleviate the shortcomings of today. They addressed and removed barriers that held back huge markets from capitalizing on huge potential.
In fact, an accelerator program here in town challenges its startup cohorts by pointing out the reasons why the startups will fail. It’s up to the startup, then, to address those challenges – removing the objections of why a buyer would not buy – turning objection discussions into must-haves.
Think about hurdles. Think about the objections – why do these hurdles exist today? How can entrepreneurs move them?
Having 100 million users and a billion in revenue is a pretty good validation of an idea. However, Rome was not built in a day. Validating an idea and the subsequent products/ startups is best done in stages.
The progression:
  • Idea – Validating an idea requires initial feedback and feel amongst a select group of potential buyers. This can be done via surveys either in small verbal groups or large online surveys. This can also be through the first 10-20 customers where many may be friendlies.
  • Product/ Service – This is the long sought-after “product-market” fit stage where validation comes from the first cohorts of buyers – scaling from 20 to 100 inorganic customers. Depending on the product/ service, engagement metrics may also provide validation.
  • Company – Let’s call this stage the growth stage for a company. At this stage, validation comes from lower customer churn. In many cases, competition will be fiercer here, so churn could be a problem.
  • Category/ Market – There are clear market leaders with more niche players taking the smaller 20% of the market. (Follow the 80-20 rule.)
I overheard a discussion between two execs recently about the idea of working closer together. One exec was pitching another way to earn incremental revenue from existing customers. Except, the conversation stopped there – regarding more revenue anyways. Instead, the execs shifted focus to discussing how working closer together could add “delight” to customers.
It’s hugely telling when an entrepreneur pauses a discussion to shift the focus away from “more money” to “more delight”. Here, the entrepreneur understands the importance of thinking about the customer-first. Here, the entrepreneur understands the importance of creating emotional value.
Thinking revenue-first means thinking about the company first. However, the company does not exist without its customers. Thinking customer-first puts the company on a path to bringing customers in and retaining them [especially against competition].
When thinking about the services and products you can’t live without today, think about the ones that you wouldn’t leave the brand. Think about how delight surrounds your decision to use that service or product. Think about the people you surround yourself with, and how your interactions together are delightful. Think about how driving customer deliver shifts how employees engage with the company mission.
Think about delight. Think about customers first.
National Public Radio (NPR) has a great podcast called “How I Built This” anchored by Guy Raz. From the show:

How I Built This is a podcast about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built. Each episode is a narrative journey marked by triumphs, failures, serendipity and insight — told by the founders of some of the world’s best known companies and brands.

There are some really fascinating stories including Spanx’s Sarah Blakely, WeWork’s Miguel McKelvey, and Airbnb’s Joe Gebbia.
Here are some trends I heard from these stories:
  • They’re opportunistic. Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard started life out by becoming a metal worker to make climbing equipment when he couldn’t find what he wanted.
  • They start things with people they haven’t known for a while… or they go it alone.WeWork’s Miguel McKelvey shared how he met his cofounder through his roommate after he wanted to work in NYC. He moved there. He met Adam Neumann who was highly complementary in skill sets and the ability to hook people on vision and sell.
  • They fake the sh!t out of it. Spanx’s Sarah Blakely would pop up her display in department stores on her own without getting official consent. People thought she was legit and bought her product.
  • There’s the hustle we all think we’re doing, and there’s the hustle they do. It’s next level. Toms’ Blake Mycoskie rolled from idea to idea, startup to startup – from a laundry delivery service for his college peers to doing giant advertising displays on the side of buildings only after seeing them work in LA. Then, he spent weeks in S. America to help hand-craft over 2,000 pairs of shoes when orders started piling up when he first started.

Go listen to the podcast. It’ll be motivating and inspirational.

What podcasts do you listen to?
I met up with a friend recently who is noodling over an idea. What was interesting was how she was so deep into her idea, and didn’t use her life’s skills and work to help validate the idea.
Like me, she started her professional career in consulting. Like me, we both ignored our acquired consulting skills when building a startup (my example was Body Boss, as described in Postmortem of a Failed Startup).
It’s a funny and sad mistake I’ve seen a lot – starting with yours truly. There’s excitement in the initial idea that people put on the blinders. They (we) ignore experience in the previous “corporate” world. I attribute much of this to emotions running high. Emotions have ways of clouding our judgements and processes.
This happens especially in endeavors we get excited about but do not have explicit professional experience in. For myself and my Body Boss cofounders, that area was fitness. We loved fitness, but we came from outside the industry.
For example, what makes consulting so effective is the initial phase of any project – discovery. In startups, you throw in “customer” in front of the word, and you have a critical foundation of building a company – “customer discovery”. In this phase, consultants interview stakeholders, assess processes, gather surveys and analytics, etc. to formulate a plan. The same should happen in building a startup.
If you have an idea, be careful of being emotionally attached. Balance excitement with grounded thinking. This doesn’t mean shooting down ideas so early on. Instead, take a moment, and recognize how you can apply previous lessons to the opportunity in front of you. Sometimes, that means playing the role of pre-idea. Be the third-party.