Sunday, March 25, 2007

Learning when NOT to bring up The Year of Magical Thinking

Karri has now come on board full-time as Julep’s first paid employee. It’s been so great to have her enthusiasm and energy in attacking our ever growing to-do list.

This week, I met with a great husband and wife CPA couple who helped me to figure out how to actually pay Karri, and other exciting accounting questions. Mike and Dolly Waller have desks side by side in a modestly furnished office in a modest building (“People expect accountants to be penny pinchers!” Mike explained. “We don’t have to pay for those fancy offices the way lawyers do.”).

Although my appointment was with Dolly, Mike chimed in with many interesting questions, comments, and gems of advice, which Dolly built upon and incorporated.

As I was walking out the door (running a little late for a conference call), I had to comment on how amazing it was that two married people could spend their whole workdays sitting just four feet away from each other. Dolly laughed and said that when they were raising their children, being with her husband all day long (including their commute), enabled her to focus on their children when she got home. Their unique solution enabled her to juggle work and family more effectively.

I think I might have ruined an otherwise lovely moment by bringing up Joan Didion’s “Year of Magical Thinking.” I love this book, but I’ve really got to stop mentioning it because it’s a surefire conversation killer.

“It’s so amazing what you have, it’s just like Joan Didion and her husband. Have you read ‘The Year of Magical Thinking?’” As I watch the words fall out of my mouth, I can see that I have no plan for a good place to take this conversation. But it’s too late.

“Well, it’s about a husband and wife who spend all their time together, because they’re both writers, and they just work in the same space, and sometimes on the same project. And they never tire of each other, it’s so beautiful. . . . uh . . . and then he dies suddenly.”

“Oh,” says Dolly, and immediately I feel horrible, but I’m late for my conference call.

“Anyway, thanks for the “No Activity” form, I’ll be sure to get that in.”

I have a section in my notebook for “lessons I have learned.” I will now add “Do not bring up ‘Year of Magical Thinking.’”

Here a few of the other lessons on my list:

- Write EVERYTHING down – appointments, minor changes, phone calls, etc. If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.
- Remember to apply the above to “Lessons learned” too. Take the time to process and write them down.
- Think about what might be on someone’s mind before launching in with a Julep related question. They just might not be as obsessed with Julep and have other things they're thinking about.
- Honor your comfort zone. If something feels awkward or uncomfortable think about whether to change it. (“Pull on the string until you figure out what’s at the end” as a BCG mentor once taught me.)
- Think through out WHO to turn to for WHAT advice. The most sympathetic shoulder might not be the one you really need.
- Presentation always matters. The underlying idea is necessary but not sufficient.
- Words (contracts) are important, but people are more important. Build relationships of trust with people whenever possible.

Hmm. No that deep, when it comes down to it, but that’s some of what I’m trying to master.