I spent the last couple days with two people that I not only admire for who they are as people and what they have accomplished, but because they are both wildly more competent and knowledgeable about things that I want to gain competence and knowledge in.
The concept of sucking is an interesting one. Most people, especially entrepreneur types, hate the concept. The younger the entrepreneur the more they hate it.
Our American society teaches us that failure is not an option. We must persevere. We must overcome. The American Hero archetype is one that succeeds against all odds.
Americans, you see, dont suck.
But sucking, at some level, is important. When at ServiceMagic, we used to talk about failure, and the acceptance of failure. It was a lesson I learned well, and took with me to my company.
I still tell everyone that works for me the same thing: “Failure is okay when you learn from it. Failure is not okay when you repeat it. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting different outcomes. Dont be insane.”
Failure and sucking is easy to spot, but hard to accept.
Famously, Brad Feld’s motto at his first company was “We Suck Less.” He has written about sucking extensively: here and here are great posts. Another mentor of mine, David Cohen, and I have spoken about the concept quite often in relation to the TechStars teams (not in that they suck, although some do on occasion suck, but how sucking at something can actually be a positive.)
But knowing you suck is only 1/2 the battle (yes, I too, say “GI Joe!” in my head). Understanding how to suck less is the other half.
Compensating for your suckatude just isnt that simple. We can do anything if we put our minds to it (Yes, my mom told me that too).
The first step after realizing that you suck at something is finding people that dont suck at it. Then do two things: Ask questions and listen to the answers.
I try and do that a lot. I try to find people that are great at what they do (designers, musicians, investors, entrepreneurs, developers, parents, bloggers…the list is rather long), and spend time with them. Watch them. Listen to them. Ask questions.
Last week, I was asked to change my role at Lijit. The change came about because I am really good at one thing, and kinda sucky at another. When the discussion began, Todd said to me, “I know you have a lot of pride around what you do.”
I thought for a second.
After all, there are many things I do that for which I am proud. But, if what I suck at was holding back the organization, was I really helping myself? Was I really as competent as I thought? Was what I suck at (project management / organization) something I could fix, or was it something that I needed to take a step back and ask for help?
I replied, “Todd, I have no pride around what I do, just the results. If the results arent there, then I am open for adjustment.” And, from there the discussion continued and what we came up with, I know, is better for Lijit and for me. Now, I am even more excited now about what we are doing and where we are going in 2009.
There is no one that cant list something that they suck at.
It may not directly affect the job that you are doing, but it is something that you must recognize and accept and actively work to reduce the impact. Its that last part that people seem to forget.