The Single Most Important Professional Question You'll Ever Answer
“Invest in lines, not dots,” goes the venture capitalist’s mantra.
Put another way, invest in stories, not snapshots. Who you are right now - as a person or as a company - is the result of the experiences that brought you to that place. The lines connect each milestone or important event in the story, and the upward trajectory you see in great lines make the best investment opportunities. That is, they’re all dots.
This holds true for individuals, too. As Gary Vaynerchuk says, the most important question you have to answer is, “What’s your story?” Your story, not your goals, not your greatest strength or weakness or why a tennis ball is fuzzy. It’s your story. And it’s up to you to make it great.
What makes your story great? Great stories are made with great dots, and great dots come from breakout opportunities. As LinkedIn founder (and venture capitalist, it should be noted) Reid Hoffman writes, “our professional lives are not a sequence of equally important jobs. There are always breakout projects, connections, specific experiences, and yes, strokes of luck—that lead to unusually rapid career growth.”
Think about it from the listener’s perspective. What’s compelling about you, and what will form the story in his or her mind? I hope it isn’t the merger agreement you slogged through on Tuesday morning, or the sales presentation you made in Denver two weeks ago. They could have been incredible (as far as these things can be incredible), but they shouldn’t be your narrative.
How do you find breakout opportunities?
First, you have to be very good at what you do, whatever that is and wherever you are in your career. No shortcut here. What you do every day absolutely matters, even if it is not the story itself; as Cal Newport notes, deliberate and thoughtful effort to create great work provides currency for breakout opportunities. I’m reminded of an interview I heard recently with Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday, where Holiday, a master marketer with an interesting reputationsays, “the best way to sell a book is to write a really good book.” For our purposes, you’re the book -- the best way to get great opportunities is to work hard continually at making yourself great.
Second, you have to be known by people with whom you can create these opportunities. In short, you must “do things, tell people.” Meet people in your company but outside your group. Meet people outside your company who are interested in something you like, whether or not it’s related to your work. I strongly advocate writing about what you know and publish it anywhere you can. Writing for JD Supra has allowed me to reach a professional audience that fits my message; if you don’t know where to start, Medium is a great place to experiment and get feedback. Volunteer using your professional skills, or not.