I have a confession to make
I am a slow learner.
Picture from marketing road show in London
The moral of the article: ask as soon as the question manifests itself, or you will be even slower, as well as feel bad and cowardly.
A whole lot of pitching going on
I studied finance from 1990-94 and worked at two different broker firms 1994-2000, pitching ideas to colleagues and clients innumerable times. I hung out with analyst friends at other firms, including Goldman Sachs, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and others. I was the lead analyst at several corporate finance deals during the IT boom, attending pitch meetings and road shows. And, to top it off, I spent the last 15 years, 2000-2015, at a hedge fund, at the receiving end of IPO presentations and other pitches.
I still never really got the word. “Pitch”, that is. I knew how to use it, but I never actually understood it. Until now. 25 years deep in finance…, and not before I retire and start throwing balls with my dog three times a day, suddenly something clicks into place…
It was just the other day that I fully got that a pitch is a throw; and in baseball the batter has several attempts to hit such a throw before he strikes out. Therefore he waits for a good pitch that suits him before batting. A financial sales pitch is also a kind of throw, an attempt to sell something at certain terms, a presentation of a deal that is palatable enough to persuade the counterpart to accept the terms.
Never mind the word “pitch” per se; the message here is that it took me 25 years immersed in finance, before actually understanding one of the most basic terms in the business. And yet I was one of the best at what I did.
There is nothing wrong with being slow at times. Actually, my foremost role model, physics Nobel prize winner Richard Feynman, often considered himself slow – but deep. He made it a point to always start from the beginning, to get a deep understanding of all the building blocks, creating a rock hard ground to stand on before building his quantum mechanic skyscrapers.
Kicking back at the office
Slow but fearless
This is just one example of how basic building blocks of whatever I did flew right over my head for years. I often was able to catch them with childish, “stupid”, questions, but sometimes (even) I got too embarrassed and the longer you wait the harder it gets. Et tu SpreZZa.
The sooner you ask, the smarter you appear – not to mention making the other person feel good about getting to explain something. Actually, that works for asking “too late” as well. If nothing else, any smart person will appreciate your dauntlessness.
I just wish somebody had explained this to me in detail, instead of just repeating the platitude “there are no stupid questions” and then roll their eyes and laugh with the rest, as soon as a question was posed.
Make the negative feeling your cue
What you should do is program yourself: When you realize there is something you don’t understand and it feels like it’s too late to ask, that’s exactly when you should ask right away – without qualifying the question or calling it stupid. Just blurt it out: Why, how, where?
I use that kind of cue programming all the time in the gym; I keep telling myself “I’ll quit”, and that very thought pushes me to do just one more, and then one…
Never rise early, as I use to say
There is no use in keeping silent, covering up, hoping to find out for yourself later. It just slows you down, and if you get caught that’s when you might get branded as a lesser person.
- Prepare, prime yourself to ask, using embarrassment cues
- Actually ask
- Remember it makes you faster, appear braver
And just to round things off; Christmas staff party at Café Opera, doing my utmost to keep my eyes open: