We recently had the pleasure of having lunch with the very successful Troy Henikoff (CEO of Excelerate Labs) and Jason Fried (President of 37Signals). We discussed a number of topics, all centered around Unbranded Designs and what we are trying to achieve. A number of learnings came from the discussion, but perhaps the most impactful one didn’t surface until after we had finished lunch. After dropping Jason back at his office, Troy turned to us and said, “Friendly feedback. Sometimes you need to just shut up and listen.”
As we recapped the discussion, Troy pointed out that we spent much of the meeting talking. In our minds, we were trying to give Jason, someone who knew nothing about our business, as much information as possible, so that he could offer informed feedback back to us. Unfortunately, in trying to do so, we rendered someone far smarter than us practically mute for large parts of the discussion.
And here’s the really scary part: we would never have known that we were doing that if Troy hadn’t pointed it out! On the surface, the conversation was lively and free-flowing, and we still walked away with a number of great takeaways. But as I look back, I realize how much more we could’ve gotten from the conversation by simply prompting Jason with some very basic thoughts and letting him ask and probe from there.
Looking back, I also realized that Jason engaged in this type of “active listening” a number of times during our lunch. We would be discussing some random topic and he would ask an open-ended question to the group and sit back and listen, sometimes pushing the discussion forward with a follow-up. Now I have no idea if he intentionally tries to do this, or it just comes naturally, but it speaks volumes that someone so successful (and opinionated) spends much of his time listening.
So to all of you meeting with advisers, investors, and others whose guidance you really want, keep this story in mind. Sometimes it pays to just shut up and listen, even if it is really hard. As Troy said, “you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.”