Chicago Green Jobs

Unfortunately Success is the Product of Learned Behaviors, Not Magic
December 14, 2010, 10:50 am
Filed under: Creating Green Behavior Change
Join this group immediately.

If you would like a halo of billions and billions of dollars join this group.

If you’ve got to go listen to one of those dreadful inspirational talks that crop up in every profession, you might as well pick the guy who decided at the tender age of 13 that he wanted to be a professional speechwriter when he grew up.  Suneel Gupta, VP of Product Development at Groupon, totally killed at a recent ChiPMA meetup with a great talk about the practical side of being a successful entrepreneur. My take on his talk is that entrepreneurship is a set of learned behaviors and attitudes – it just looks like magic in the halo of billions and billions of dollars.

Gupta’s origin story is pretty grand. It seems that one of his teachers showed the class a gripping speech by JFK. Then she showed them a picture of the guy who actually wrote the speech, which blew his mind and instantly inspired him to be that guy instead. Gupta called his mom and told her that he wanted to be a speechwriter when he grew up, and in an act of totally clutch parenting she told him that he had everything he needed to start that day. So he did. And here’s the cool part: he started biking to local politician’s offices and offering them his speeches. None of them actually used them, but eventually Bart Stupak recommended that weird kid with the ideas to Rahm Emanuel and he was on his way with his first speechwriting job.

This is a great story – it’s funny and it illustrates at least three behaviors and one truth that anyone can learn:

Three behaviors to cultivate for entrepreneurial success.

1. Ignore fake barriers. Did being 13 stop Gupta from becoming a speechwriter? Did being 12 keep Peter Wiggin from becoming Hegemon? No. No it did not. And it’s not just age – people talk themselves out of doing things because they don’t have the right degree or the right connections or a perfectly uncluttered block of time. The best way to jolt out of this rut is to…

2. Do something. This was one of Gupta’s main points and he’s got the embarrassing stories of being turned down by politician after politician to back it up. I bet those first speeches were absolutely dreadful. But they were necessary because everyone has to start someplace – no one ever in the history of time has created perfection on the first try. Which means that you have to…

3. Get the hang of fucking up. As a perfectionist I think this is the hard part. I’m working on convincing myself that it’s like learning how to fall in martial arts: it’s the first thing you learn and one of the most important because if you can’t do it right then even if you become the best eventually you’ll get hurt really, really badly. The trick is to learn from your failures and apply the learning to the next iteration instead of collapsing into a miserable wet heap of self-loathing. That’s right folks – you learned it here first!

And here’s the one big truth: Everyone – even Rahm Emanuel – wants to work with people who care enough about the work that they are willing to ignore fake barriers, do something, and get the hang of fucking up. You can teach skills but you can’t teach attitude.


2 Comments so far
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Wise words. Guess I will shop that book proposal.

Comment by Janet

[…] All the cool kids these days are interested in figuring out how to teach problem solving and critical thinking in schools. So how do you teach these things if you do if you don’t have a copy of The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer or a mom as rad as that guy from Groupon has? […]

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