In information technology, the user interface (UI) is everything designed into an information device with which a human being may interact. I’ve borrowed that phrase to describe my interactions with other humans too. A human user interface encompassing personality, cultural, emotional and even physical qualities. It’s a fun way for me to describe people and how I perceive them interacting with other humans. Maybe soon we’ll think of robots in the same way?
As I’ve made this transition to a new role and I’m interacting with a lot of new people, I thought it might be worthwhile for me to share how I think about my own UI, including some of it’s quirks. The motivation for this came from Brad’s post about an operating manual [http://www.feld.com/archives/2016/04/user-manual-working.html]
Whether you’re an LP, VC, Entrepreneur, or new friend, I’m really glad you’re in my orbit. I hope some of this introspection might be useful in knowing how best to interface with me. I think it’s useful to read my back story here [http://www.ldeakman.com/about] if you haven’t already.
So here goes. A few things I think you ought to know about me:
- Focus – A central challenge of mine is having too many balls up in the air and not staying focused. Learn how to manage me. A few suggestions for keeping me on-task:
- I operate on the 3 take-aways rule. Meaning that I only think humans can remember 3 things so we need to decide what the next three steps are before our next interaction. Too many and they get diluted. Summarize them at the end of the conversation with me. Sometime you will owe me 3 things, and sometimes I will owe you 3, or anywhere in between.
- Give me a deadline. Make me report back on what we agreed to do.
- Context is important to me. I need to understand the big picture and where group motivations/incentives lie before I can dig into the details.
- Stay on task and keep me on task in a meeting. Start the meeting by stating the critical decisions you want to make, and then draw out a process. State the big picture, inputs to a decision (your assumptions) and then let’s discuss or draw it out.
- I’m a very visual learner. Auditory learning just doesn’t work for me. Write it down, or have me write it down if you want me to remember it.
A few other notes about my quirky user interface:
- I’m freaking terrible at remembering names. And pretty darn good at remembering storylines. Give me context and you’ll usually see the gears click into place.
- Being on time is very important to me. My Dad said that he would always rather show up early and wait for somebody than have the opposite position. Yes, I go to the airport early and I hate rescheduling meetings/calls. I apologize now if that happens. I’m cringing thinking about it.
- I can spot a misspelling at 50 feet in 10 point font. It’s weird. And it drives me crazy. I write in bullet points. I think that way too. Please don’t make me write in long paragraph form. Please line up your text. Please don’t change fonts. Please double justify when possible. I’m a strong advocate of the Oxford comma.
- My default answer is “yes”. I need to say “no” more often. I struggle not to want to help people but I’m forcing myself to limit the time because of bandwidth restrictions, not for lack of empathy or interest.
- I often have too many projects going at once. I distract myself by starting new projects before I finish out the first ones. I need your help to close them out.
- If I don’t respond quickly, I’m either overwhelmed or I don’t know the answer. Neither are going to be useful to you.
- “I don’t know” are three of the most powerful words and I need to use them more without fear.
- I have a reputation for being direct/blunt. Sometimes people confuse that for being a jerk. Usually I’m not trying to be a jerk and certainly don’t want to have that reputation. In fact, it’s a lot scarier emotionally to be direct and give people feedback they don’t want to hear. Or to transparently give them a sense for your concerns. It would be a lot easier to hide behind a grin-fuck. [http://www.feld.com/archives/2012/02/grinfucking.html]
- In this vein, I think it’s okay to disagree. I understand and accept that we might not have the same motivations and I don’t dislike you for having a different position so long as it’s thought out. Unless you try to hide it, lie to me, or otherwise influence a position in a negative social manner.
- I’ve certainly had to be a jerk and I haven’t tamed my own emotions. We all struggle to keep the rational rather than the emotional minds. There are a myriad of instances at UTIMCO that I would love to have back in do-overs. There is always room for growth. Let’s also say that I’m really glad that I no longer have the responsibility of playing lead investor for a large, public institution that dominates a cap table.
- It’s better if you communicate with me by stating your conclusion and path that got you there. I will ask your assumptions and probably ask you to argue the opposite position. I’ve found that if I can argue both sides then I have a much better sense for the issue.
- I seek to always treat you with respect and ask your opinion before offering my own. I presume that I’m likely to learn something. I accept that you may decide a different course of action and that I’m only one data point with a whole lot of personal biases built into it.
- If we agree to do something and you’re assigned a task, I assume it happened. I hate having to remind someone or nagging them.
- I want feedback. I use the phrase “praise in public, reprimand in private”. Don’t wait for weeks or to become emotional about something. Just grab me. Right then. Or right after the interaction. Raise the issue, let us both chew on it, and circle back to it. I try to absorb, marinate, and then respond.
- I’m generally very stable. There can be a ton of turmoil happening inside but I can generally compartmentalize. That said, I’m surprisingly sensitive and yes, I will cry at movies. It’s not that I don’t have tons of empathy or that I’m not sensitive to the noise around me. I try to absorb it rather than reflect it. BUT sometimes I need a time-out. Usually I can put myself in the corner but keep in mind that you may need to remind me to take a time-out if I’m flying on emotion!
- Sometimes I joke that I only pick on people I really like. It’s kind of true. If I’m not smiling and messing with you, then I probably don’t have much comfort with the relationship. Tell me to back off if needed. Or “not today”. BTW – I usually get it more than I give and that is totally okay. I will growl at you if it’s too much. Please respect the bark so there isn’t a bite. 🙂
There you have it. A lot to dump on you all at once.
So it turns out that you’ve got an annoyingly punctual, direct, grammar Nazi in your life. Awesome. My apologies in advance. But when it’s all said and done, I care most about helping people and that’s what really gets me going. Help me, help you by keeping these in mind!