Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Getting The Story | Lefsetz Letter


People will tell you anything, but you’ve got to ask them.

This was my father’s mantra, YOU GOTTA ASK!, to the point where I developed social anxiety, I was embarrassed every time he’d engage, but he was right. He also taught me to be nice and make friends. People react positively to niceness. And the game changes, used to be if you said you were a lawyer, you got respect, now people become defensive and give you worse service. Furthermore, my father taught me how to prove a point, by making analogies, by telling stories himself. He’d always call for the president of the company, the person who could make a decision. If the person on the line said the president was out of town, or unavailable all day, my father would ask for the person who would run the company if god forbid the president died, there was always someone in charge. This taught me not to waste time with the person who cannot make a decision. I know, I know, they’re nice, they’re part of the hierarchy, you’re building a relationship, you’re gonna hug the company to death. But if the person in charge says no, you’re screwed, so it’s best to go to the top right away, no matter what anybody says. And the stunning thing is you can reach the top, especially today, with the internet, via Twitter. But don’t be a jerk. If you call the person an a-hole, they’re not going to respond, but if you lay out your problem they oftentimes will, Michael Rapino responds to e-mail and tweets, he wants his customers to be satisfied. But if you’re the squeaky wheel, always complaining, always looking for an edge, you’re gonna win and then ultimately lose, because people can detect this behavior, you don’t want to be a schnorrer. So if you’ve got a problem, if you think there’s an injustice, make contact with the person who can make a decision, who can solve your problem. Tell a story, length is no issue, unless you’re on Twitter, you want to demonstrate that you’re reasonable, but in this case things didn’t work out. Remind me when we’re together to tell you the story of the K2 skis, and my Apple Powerbook…


Today’s story was all about Bill Browder. Who? If you were paying attention, playing the home game, you read my article about his book “Red Notice“.  Putin is pissed about the Magnitsky Act, which Browder made happen. I could explain the news, but if you’re not reading it… But my point is Browder illustrated what is really happening in Russia, the Magnitsky Act is in the news multiple times a month. Furthermore, if you trust Putin today, you didn’t see “Icarus,” wherein Putin lies straight to our faces, that’s right, Bryan Fogel lays out the facts and Putin denies them. Being a citizen of the world is being informed. You can’t know everything, but you want to know a lot, if for no other reason than when you run into someone you know what they’re talking about. Happens to me all the time, someone starts telling me a story and I’m familiar with what they’re talking about because I read the news in the WSJ or the NYT or Bloomberg. The news itself may not help me in my life, but the fact I’m up to speed in conversation pays incredible dividends, people bond to those who know their story.


This relates to the first paragraph above. It’s about people, not facts. I had a two hour lunch with a record company CEO today and we only talked business for five minutes. It’s about the bond, if you keep pitching without a relationship, you’re not gonna get what you want. You have to KNOW these people! That’s how you get a job, no one wants to hire someone they don’t know. They want someone to vouch for you, someone who is intimately familiar with you. That’s right, you cannot get a gig without a connection, and that’s a GOOD thing! Because the world runs on trust and you need people you can trust, you can’t supervise people 24/7, you need to know they’re not only not criminals, but they can do the job, which is all about finishing, which most people cannot, they’ve got so many excuses. If someone blows deadlines, get rid of them/ignore them. There’s rarely a good excuse. They’re just waiting to feel right so they can do the best job, better to find someone who can get the job done, even if it’s not perfect.


Information is nothing without context. Figure out how to put the pieces together. This is what an elite school will teach you, one with essay exams as opposed to objective tests. I know, I know, there’s this Ivy League backlash, and I’m not saying you cannot make it if you’re from another school, or cannot make it without schooling at all, but that’s a very thin layer of people. What elite institutions do is teach you how to think. It’s not about covering what’s in the book, if you can’t read, you’ve got bigger problems, but how you put the pieces together. Sure, this act grossed a lot last time around, but does that mean they’ll do well this time? Or the gross number is big, but the dates didn’t go clean, does this mean the fanbase is moving on?


Don’t trust one person for the answer, even if he or she is an expert. The more people you talk to, the more perspective you get, the more things become clear. This happens to me all the time. I’ll go to one store and hear one story and then to another and that salesperson will contradict the first and then I go to a third establishment and the pieces start to come together. And all information is not created equal, this is the 10,000 hours rule. It’s not about 10,000 hours of practice, it’s about 10,000 hours of HARD practice! If you spend 10,000 hours on the bunny hill, you’ll never be a World Cup skier. So find people who’ve tested themselves.


Intentionally or not. There was a great story in the NYT a decade ago that independent auto repair shops are not intentionally ripping you off, they’re just incompetent, they think they’re doing a good job. Just because the person telling you the story is confident, that does not make it true. And as a matter of fact, the best sources are frequently less than confident, because they know what they don’t know, they’re always re-evaluating their position. And it’s a rare male who will tell you he does not know something. And males are about ego. They want to look good. So, on many issues, you’re better off asking a woman, if they have expertise in the area.


It must be logical, laid out, told in a linear fashion, from beginning to end. I don’t want to go all middle school on you, but too many people don’t know how to tell a story. It’s not important to tell the premise or conclusion first, just that the audience be able to follow it. You’re taking them on a trip, building an edifice, just because it’s clear in your mind that does not mean it’s clear in theirs. Although you will find some people cannot follow a story, no matter how clearly you tell it. But when you tell a story coherently, with confidence, people respect that, you’ll move up the food chain, because no boss can do all the work, they depend upon subordinates, who report to them. They want you to do the work and report. They don’t want to hear your dog ate your homework, what you ate last night, unless it’s relevant. Length is fine, as long as the listener has time.


Don’t talk unless you have something to say, when it comes to business anyway. Some people abhor silence and feel a need to fill it. Train yourself to hold back. He who speaks first rarely triumphs in the end.


Which is why television and movies are so triumphant. It’s all about the narrative, that’s how we communicate. Listen and tell. And if you listen, once again, people will tell you ANYTHING! Because in this alienated, narcissistic world, no one cares how another person feels. There are too many show-offs. You want to make the teller of the story feel comfortable, feel attended to, feel loved. If you hit a roadblock, back off, but this is rarely the case. People not only want to talk, they want to help, as long as you’re not obviously using them. If you’re lucky, you’ll never have to get to the ask, the person will offer what you want. If you do get to the ask, don’t see the person as a vehicle, someone to be used and discarded. It’s great if the ask benefits the person asked, but if not, if it’s to your benefit, it’s best if it’s about a problem you have as opposed to jetting you to the top of the class.


Voice, phone calls, text, tweets, that’s what they’re all about, communicating and connecting. And the irony is so much of what is done online is about bragging…I did this or that. Think about entering someone’s heart, that’s where the dividends lie.


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