Going Pro

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, skmurphy, Startups

Going pro means learning how to deliver the results required. Some key points to remember as you ask folks in larger firms to take a risk with our new offering or service. They are from a March 1993 column entitled “Going Pro” by Asa Baber.

Going Pro

Life in most business organizations is like life in a submarine.
For those of you who find yourselves in an office environment, understand that it is, by definition, a closed environment. Take note of how you conduct yourself. Do you talk too loudly? Are you argumentative to a fault? Do you wear well as an office companion? Do you think of the needs of others? […]

Life in most business organizations is like life in a Medici court.
The spirit of Niccolo Machiavelli lives in every business culture. There are political alliances and power shifts. There are assassinations and misdemeanors. There are those who are in, and those who are out. It is life on the refined edge of risk and reward. So play your cards like a careful courtier. Especially when you are beginning your career. Whom can you trust? Who wants help you and who wants to impede your progress? Better bide your time and keep your own counsel. And finally, don’t try to be too special or too unique in order to get noticed. Remember the advice of good old Niccolo:

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

from “Going Pro” by Asa Baber

Employees in a large firm have to live with the consequences of failure in ways that can be more harsh than the effect the same failure has on your startup. It’s important to bear in mind that you can put a dent in someone’s career and while you may have opted for the entrepreneurial adventure, they don’t want to wander too far off their career path.

Also, startups are like mini-subs, very intense pressure cookers that require a high tolerance for stress induced behavior–and hopefully the ability to minimize the impact of stress on your own actions.

Stick to Basics

Thinking like a professional means sticking to basics.
The basics are founded on common sense, and they include: being on time, never missing a deadline, talking when spoken to, shutting up when not spoken to, being honest about expenses and other funds, giving your time and energy to the job without reservation while you are on the job, showing consideration for your colleagues, seeking solutions not perpetual conflict–and last but not least, being willing to go out on a limb and push for an idea you truly believe in…

from “Going Pro” by Asa Baber

I sometimes meet folks who think that being in a startup exempts them from most of the rules of business etiquette. It’s a mixture of “leading the revolution” that will sweep away all of the current practice and being clearer on their own short term needs without consideration for potential consequences. And let’s face it, many people join startups because they can’t fit in at larger firms for reasons that encompass a multitude of strengths and shortcomings.

I still prefer the challenges of aligning founders’ psychology with business reality to the need to navigate the complex political landscape–come join the kabuki–of most large firms. I say this as a former flying monkey for several evil emperors (it’s not just wicked witches who need flying monkeys) who never wanted to move up to samurai because the ronin retirement policy was a little too much to take in the event of the untimely demise of your shogun.

Look at the Situation from the Other Person’s Point of View

See the terrain from the point of view of your boss.
This is both an opportunistic and a humane approach to the workplace. Your boss, no matter his or her deficiencies, is not your enemy. Your boss has to get a job done. So before you decide that your boss has no grasp of the territory, you should at least know how territory looks from the executive suite. You might be surprised. If you put yourself in the shoes of your superiors, will learn a lot about their expectations of you. And, if you know what they expect of you, you can get the job done.

from “Going Pro” by Asa Baber

It’s also good advice to understand the situation from your prospect’s boss’ perspective. And if your prospect can’t explain the boss’ perspective, they may not prove to be that effective an internal champion or change agent.

Time is Worth More Than Money

Lao-tzu gives outstanding advice:

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”

“To know that you do not know is the best. To pretend to know when you do not know is a disease.”

“The way of the sage is to act but not to compete.”

“When armies are mobilized and issues are joined, the man who is sorry over the fact will win.”

Time is worth much more than money, so don’t waste it
your own or anybody else’s…the true professional guards his time. More important, he doesn’t steal time from others. His written memos are brief and to the point, his phone conversations are neither chatty or windy, his statements in meetings are compact and organized. Few things can get you fired faster than a selfish use of someone else’s time.

from “Going Pro” by Asa Baber

And few things make it very hard to get a meeting with someone, even if you are now in a different company, than asking for a 30 minute meeting to offer a briefing on your offering and arguing with a prospect for more than an hour. Ask for 30 minutes and be prepared to be packed up heading for the door at the 25 minute mark if your prospect is not interested or doesn’t see the value in your offer.

The professional mind-set is built on common sense, rationality, cold logic, and a shrewd understanding of the business process.
On the battlefield and in the marketplace, our emotions are perpetually attacked, manipulated, courted, and torn. But the real professional is the person who can overcome all of the glitter and distraction, all of the melodrama and posturing. The true pro stays within himself, analyzes the chessboard, thinks ahead, stays cool and keeps this constant mind: Just get the job done.

from “Going Pro” by Asa Baber

This is a tough one, but making and meeting commitments that create value for your customers is what gets remembered (of the positive things that get remembered).

Related Blog Posts

2018 Addendum: Full Text

Going Pro” by Asa Baber

Chances are that you have had a decent education in all but the most important areas of your life. For most men, no one really tells it like it is.

No one sits us down and says, “OK, you are about to go out into the world and earn your way. Here are some of the standards by which you will be judged. Amateur hour is over. You are supposed to be a pro now.”

Question: How does a man learn what it means to be a true professional?

Answer: Most men never have that conversation with anyone in their lives. They learn by improvisation, by chance and–if they are lucky–by example.

I want to share what I think the world of business (you know: the 21st century world, the interconnected and interdependent global economy) is looking for in its future hires. I want to describe what I see as the fundamental element of the professional mind.

One word of warning: I am a self-educated man when it comes to questions of conduct. I am not slick, I am not rich and I am not temperamentally suited for the corporate state.

I am a self-employed free-lance writer who left home at the age of 14 and never looked back. But I have, by hook and by crook, taught myself some professional survival skills. Most guys don’t get this kind of advice. I certainly didn’t. So here you are. Some keys to the kingdom of professional conduct:

Life in most business organizations is like life in a submarine. For those of you who find yourselves in an office environment, understand that it is, by definition, a closed environment. Take note of how you conduct yourself. Do you talk too loudly? Are you argumentative to a fault? Do you wear well as an office companion? Do you think of the needs of others? Do you check your own boorish behavior at the door? The office place is an exotic place, an inbred and sometimes incestuous place. Be aware of that.

Life in most business organizations is like life in a Medici court. The spirit of Niccolò Machiavelli lives in every business culture. There are political alliances and power shifts. There are assassinations and misdemeanors. There are those who are in and those who are out. It is life on the refined edge of risk and reward. So play your cards like a careful courtier. Especially when you are beginning your career. Whom can you trust? Who wants to help you and who wants to impede your progress? Better bide your time and keep your own counsel. And finally, don’t try to be too special or too unique in order to get noticed. Remember the advice of good old Niccolò: “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

Thinking like a professional means sticking to the basics. The basics are founded on common sense, and they include: being on time, never missing a deadline, speaking when spoken to, shutting up when not spoken to, being honest about expenses and other funds, giving your time and energy to the job without reservation while you are on the job, showing consideration for your colleagues, seeking solutions, not perpetual conflict–and last but not least, being willing to go out on a limb and push for an idea you truly believe in. There are some ideas worth fighting for, and if you become a completely frightened and servile employee, a safe player at all times, you will become bored with yourself and ineffective as a professional.

See the terrain from the point of view of your boss. This is both an opportunistic and a humane approach to the workplace. Your boss, no matter his or her deficiencies, is not your enemy. Your boss has to get a job done. So before you decide that your boss has no grasp of the territory, you should at least know how that territory looks from the executive suite. You might be surprised. If you put yourself in the shoes of your superiors, you will learn a lot about their expectations of you. And if you know what they expect of you, you can get the job done.

The Chinese can teach you things about the professional mind-set. For my money, Laotzu gives outstanding advice from his perspective of 2600 years ago. Try this: “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” Or this: “To know that you do not know is the best. To pretend to know when you do not know is a disease.” Or this: “The way of the sage is to act but not to compete.” And finally, my favorite quote from Laotzu: “When armies are mobilized and issues are joined, the man who is sorry over the fact will win.”

Time is worth much more than money, so don’t waste it–your own or anybody else’s. The awful secret of our lives today is that we live in a workaholic culture. Most of us have too many commitments, too much to do and precious little time in which to do it. So the true professional guards his time. More important, he does not steal time from others. His written memos are brief and to the point, his phone conversations are neither chatty nor windy, his statements in meetings are compact and organized. Few things can get you fired faster than a selfish use of someone else’s time.

The professional mind-set is built on common sense, rationality, cold logic and a shrewd understanding of the business process. On the battlefield and in the marketplace, our emotions are perpetually attacked, manipulated, courted and torn. But the real professional is the person who can overcome all of the glitter and distraction, all of the melodrama and posturing. The true pro stays within himself, analyzes the chessboard, thinks ahead, stays cool and keeps this constant goal in mind: Just get the job done.

That is the professional’s eternal bottom line. And there is often virtue in it. So good luck. And get to work.

Trackback from your site.

Comments (1)

Leave a comment

Quick Links

Bootstrappers Breakfast Link Startup Stages Clients In the News Upcoming Events Office Hours Button Newsletter SignUp