Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, April 3, 2023
by Neil Senturia
Heard last month in the halls of Silicon Valley Bank.
Cannelloni some money ’til next week?
A long time ago, I worked in Hollywood as a sitcom writer, and I was supposed to write funny. Like beauty, comedy is usually in the eye of the beholder, but in today’s business world, “the price of being humorless is no joke,” says journalist Joel Stein, writing about a new book, “Humor, Seriously,” by Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker and Stanford lecturer Naomi Bagdonas.
Stein notes that in a study of 50,000 Norwegians, women with a strong sense of humor had a 73 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease. Also, Norwegians with a sense of humor lived on average eight years longer. (Great, but you have to live in Norway.)
Aaker and Bagdonas make the point in their book that creating a laugh is not easy. It is not a natural innate skill. “Humor is an unexpected surprise, sometimes referred to as the Incongruity-Resolution Theory.” (Try explaining that at an open mic comedy night).
Look, I can’t define funny, but I know it when I hear it. My suggestion is that perhaps we need to laugh a bit more. There seems to be a current conflict between being politically correct and being funny. Much humor trades on a disconnect between what is being said and what we think but would never admit to.
Mel Brooks, commenting on the current PC culture, said that his classic movie “Blazing Saddles” could never be made today. I am not suggesting that his movie ranks with “Citizen Kane,” but how many times can you laugh at Rosebud?
What I can tell you is that a good joke is a thing of beauty, whether it be at your own expense or someone else’s (careful here, proceed with caution). It is a surgical skill to find the right balance, but if we all laughed a bit more, we would probably live a little longer.
Enough dancing on the head of the PC pin. Now on to what you came for, some serious, valuable, entrepreneurial advice. (Who am I kidding).
So you want to be a high-achieving executive? Business coach Bruce Eckfeldt has some thoughts. He asks, “What do you really enjoy doing that keeps you engaged and challenges you?” The corollary is don’t keep doing things that bore you and that you are probably not very good at.
Eckfeldt wants us to find those things “where you lose track of time,” where you are deeply absorbed and might even miss a meal or two to keep working on that problem. In the entrepreneur circus, there are certain distinct skills needed. Don’t get confused. If you are not an A player in a particular area, get someone who is. Masquerading at a skill is a certain recipe for failure. (e.g. the high wire or juggling chainsaws).
What are you really good at? And for this, do not engage in self-assessment that can border on delusion. Ask someone else. The world will tell you what you are good at. An outside set of eyes is very important. The mirror is not a reliable gauge of your true talent. “It’s always more about what others think, not just what you think,” Eckfeldt writes.
Eckfeldt asks us to consider, “What can nobody else do?” That question can put you into deep therapy for a decade, and of course, it also runs right up against the imposter syndrome. Better to identify a skill that you do better than most, where you can be a force multiplier.
There is nothing I do better than “nobody else” — but I have a Ph.D. in cheerleading. (I have custom pom-poms). I know my limitations, and in my current little company, I delegate the important stuff to the rest of the team.
However, here’s the fish hook. That presupposes that you have a great team, and finding and corralling and motivating a great team, that is the baseline prerequisite so that you can focus on what you do best — what nobody else can do.
Rule No. 754: You’re open, take the shot.