80% and Go

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lightstock_man jumping athleticFriends and former colleagues often ask what I’ve learned by working in a startup. In particular, they’re curious about how my experience has influenced the skills I’d want students to learn.

Here’s my short list –

  1. Collaborate effectively (synchronously and asynchronously): shared online docs and blended collaboration (online and in person) drive the work we do
  2. Self-directed learning: If you need it, you learn it. It’s that simple. How you learn it is up to you.
  3. Communication skills: Write well, speak with knowledge and confidence, listen aggressively (or go home).
  4. Interpersonal skills: work and play well with others.
  5. Problem-solving skills: what do you do when you don’t know what to do? Figure it out. Don’t do it alone. Ask for help. Seek expertise. Be thankful.
  6. Reflect: if you’re doing something new for the first time, guess what? You’re going to make mistakes. Own them. Learn from them. Make more mistakes, preferably not the same ones.
  7. Uncomfortable is the new vibe: if you’re feeling comfortable, you’re probably not learning. If you’re not learning, you’re facing extinction.
  8. 80% and go: lose the desire to be perfect. If you can get to perfect the first time, you’re probably not dreaming big enough. Give it 80%, get it out there, and get ready for feedback. It’s coming. It’s okay. Use it. Learn from it. That’s how you’ll get to 100%.
  9. Push your perspective: Travel. Eat dinner in public alone, without a book, without a phone, without a prop. Take on the challenge you don’t think you can accomplish. You’ll start to learn where your edges are, where the fear kicks in. Relish it.
  10. Worry less about being liked: Care. Show respect. Don’t live in the “I wanna be liked” zone. It’s hard to grow there.
  11. Do: thinking is wonderful. I’m a big fan. Doing is equally wonderful. Do more. You’ll learn more.
  12. Practice empathy: assume the best in others. Practice patience. Work to understand. Recognize that you never know people’s stories. Try hard not to judge.

What I like about these skills is that they’re hard to master. I think the best skills are.


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  1. Lara Triona on January 30, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Thanks for this interesting list of lessons!
    We talked about “aiming for mediocrity” in grad school. That seems similar to your “80% and Go” rule, but I like your name better. When you have a keen eye for high quality work, it is too easy to spin your wheels trying to make it to amazing and never let anyone else see your work because it is never good enough to share.
    (I tried to “Be the first to like this.” but was having technical difficulties.)

  2. Gayle on January 30, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    Hi Lara,

    I agree. Aiming for high quality work every time can be paralyzing. Plus, getting it out there sooner for feedback can save you time and make it even better sooner. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and thanks for the heads up on the “be the first to like this” button. I’ll check on this.


  3. Dave Mark on January 31, 2014 at 6:34 am

    Gayle, love this list. Just linked to it from The Loop. http://www.loopinsight.com/2014/01/31/80-and-go/
    In case you are interested, your post was listed on a CMU alum email that went out this morning. That’s my LinkedIn invite, would love to connect. — Dave Mark

  4. Gayle on January 31, 2014 at 7:05 am

    Dave, thanks for reaching out and thanks for sharing my post. Glad you liked it! I just accepted your invitation and am looking forward to checking out The Loop.

    Enjoy your Friday!

  5. CG on February 3, 2014 at 8:40 am

    This is what every company wants from their employees but many times fail to communicate or offer an environment that fosters these behaviors. It’s easy for a startup to create such an atmosphere because they are new and don’t have an existing culture; but try doing this in an organization with 75-150+ people and it becomes harder and harder. The older the company and more people in it, the less likely these traits can be encouraged.

    I agree it’s a great list. And in my career, I’ve encountered a few places that actively promote this working philosophy. It’s good to get it out there for those who’s employers don’t offer this support structure or to those who want to exceed by adopting it themselves in environments that don’t.

  6. Gayle on February 3, 2014 at 9:47 am

    CG, thanks for your comment. It does get harder as organizations become larger and less agile. Part of my goal in creating this list was to develop a list of skills I think startup folks need to bring, as well as a list of skills it’d be helpful for students to learn as they head into the work world. In addition, I wanted to get beyond the emphasis on getting it to 100% the first time out of the gate, no matter the project or the creator of it. Feedback is so helpful to get things to the next stage of development – whether in business or school or any other context.

    Thanks again!

  7. Paula Torres on March 1, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    I really needed to read this for my own reflection! Thank you for yours!! I worry that I will NEVER be ready to try a flipped classroom because there are so many pieces of the puzzle to put together. But after reading this, I realize too that it will be like bringing home my first child from the hospital. There was no manual and I had to learn by doing!! It does get easier, but those first few months were difficult….and I know trying something radically different with students will be tough too. I just have to be mentally ready for the fail, reflect, repeat process.

  8. Gayle on March 2, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Paula, it sounds like you’re already there! Your mindset on this is terrific – it really is about “learning by doing,” starting somewhere and just diving in. Fortunately, it’s so easy to go online and learn from peers about what’s working/not working. Let me know how it goes as you dive in and thanks for your comment!