I gave this speech at my Toastmasters Club. These are advises I would give to myself knowing what I know today – the “Back to the Future” scenario.
My Toastmaster Speech: “How to Bulletproof Your Career”
Here’s my rehearsal of the same speech – a bit longer and complete without the timing restriction:
My toastmaster speech about 5 Things to Know About a Psychopath – the Devil in Human Form or H. H. Holmes
The original script is here: I had to cut short some of the contents to meet the 5~7-minute limit of a typical Toastmaster length.
Top 5 things to know about a psychopath – the devil in human form
Be forewarned that my talk today could be rated ‘PG-13’ and ‘R’ for vivid description of crimes. One of my favorite things to watch on TV shows are in crime, detective, thriller genres like Law and Order, Criminal Intent, Law and Order Special Victim Unit, and other reality crime shows like Snapped. If you know of any good detective, crime TV shows or movies, please let me know. The more gruesome the better.
1. Introduction of topic, Holmes, purpose of the talk
The topic of my speech today is “The five things to know about a psychopath – the devil in human form.” The devil I’m referring to here is a physician named, Henry Howard Holmes. He was the most notorious and America’s first serial killer around the end of 19th century, between year 1888 and 1896. Most of the materials come from this book I hold in my hand – “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. The devil here refers to Holmes, who you’ll soon know why he’s called a devil, and the White City refers to the beautiful World Columbus Expo in 1893. In my talk today, I will be focusing on this character, H. H. Holms. I will give a brief biography of Holmes then dive into the key takeaways from how to keep you and your family safe from someone like him.
Once again, I’m NOT here to glorify him or his actions but to learn from his actions and avoid being a victim to someone like him.
2. Brief biography of Holmes
Holmes was born in 1861 in New Hampshire as Herman Webster Mudgett to descendants of early English settlers. Father was a violent alcoholic. He was the 3rd of their 4 children. He excelled in academics, graduated in 1884 from University of Michigan’s Department of Medicine and Surgery after two years at age of 21. While enrolled in school, he would steal cadavers, disfigured the bodies attempting to commit life insurance fraud. You can get away with a lot of things because of No DNA yet in those days. But the insurance companies were pretty good, better than police detectives.
At this time, he already married his first wife, Clara and had one daughter of 4 years old. Luckily for them, their marriage fell apart and Holmes moved to New York working odd jobs, then moved to Philadelphia after a boy died; he denied any involvement. Another boy died after taking medicine from the drugstore where he worked.
To avoid the previous scam victims catching on to him, he changed his name to Henry Holmes before he moved to Chicago in 1886. While still married to Clara, he married Myrta and had a daughter in a different town, freeing him to tend his “business” in Chicago.
In Chicago, he got a job in a drug store and “bought” the store from the widower of the owner after Mr. Holten died. The widower disappeared, presumably killed by Holmes.
He then purchased an empty lot across the drugstore and built his three-story, block-wide hotel. It was so huge that it was called “The Castle” – later was called the “Murder Castle.” There were many rooms with some doors opened to brick walls, or can be opened from outside only. He event built a special life-size kiln like crematorium in the basement. There were special rooms where he did his evil deeds: a soundproof, air-tight room where he gassed his victims, and solid brick room with a trapdoor from the top where victims died of hunger or thirst and another secret hanging chamber.
His victims include his mistresses, employees or ex-employees, hotel guests. Keep in mind that in 1893, Chicago hosted the largest World Expo Exhibit where more than 26-million visitors attended the 200+ beautiful architectural master pieces including the first Ferris Wheel that is 24-story high. The chaos of city during the expo contribute to his playground as police was too busy to care about missing-person cases.
His fall came when he conveniently killed his helper, Benjamin Pitezel, for real after conning him into playing the life insurance scam. Pitezel kind of deserve it as he helped Holmes get rid of bodies by articulating the body, meaning stripping the skin and flesh off, then sell the remaining skeleton to doctors.
Then he proceeded to take his three children on a long trip, murdering one after another along the trip all the way to Toronto.
He was arrested in 1894, tipped off by a former cellmate whom Holmes neglected to pay off after an insurance scam. He was convicted of murdering his helper, Pitezel.
Overall, only 9 murders were confirmed but the number of victims has been estimated between 20 and 100. Holmes confessed to 27 murder before his death, some of them turned out alive.
3. Top 5 things to recognize a psychopath
The disclaimer here is that not all psychopaths are criminals or murders and not all criminals or murders are psychopaths. But psychopaths, in my opinion, is the most insidious kind because they’re easily among us, ready to strike.
1. Superficially charming: Possessed with a pair of blue eyes, charming, and seductive demeanor, he charmed many young girls into going home with him. Most of his drugstore customers were women and only ask for help.
2. Lying pathologically: Holmes lied about his names: it was Herman Mudgett, Henry Howard, Henry Gordon, Alexander Bond but mostly Henry Howard Holmes. He lied about his ancestry claiming belonged to a royal family in Europe. He lied about the where about of disappearing wife or girlfriends like marrying others to a foreign country. He lied about his wealth. At the end he lied about who he killed; I think he lost count himself.
3. Conning and manipulative: he keeps hiring and firing construction workers in building his castle and a human-size kiln, where he lured, murdered and cremate dozens of faire visitors. He tricked several people into taking out life insurance with him as the beneficiary.
4. Lack of remorse or guilt: he never showed any remorse for what he has done. He wrote a memoir while in jail to plead his innocence and make money off his notoriety.
5. Inflated sense of self worthy: he claimed to be the devil. He once declared “I was born with the devil in me. I was born with the evil standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since.”
4. The end of a killer
Holmes was convicted of 4 counts of murder in the first degrees, executed by hanging in 1896 at age of 34. He remained calm and charming until his moment of death.
Good news! The story of the “Devil in the White City” is being filmed and will be coming to a theater near you soon. The person who plays Holmes will be none other than the Best Actor of the last year’s Oscar – Leonardo DiCaprio, the same actor in, Titanic, Catch If You Can, Wolf of Wall Street, and The Revenant. It’s going to be good one. Can’t wait!
I hope you come away from my speech with better understanding of these five character traits of a psychopath to help you and your family safe from them. And if you happen to have these traits, I probably don’t want to know.
Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg were the early hires of Google. Eric came to provide the adult supervision as the CEO before their IPO and Jonathan came to Google to manage the product offering. This book is the combined perspectives of how Google get things done in terms of their hiring, culture and history. It’s a good read if you admire and want to join Google or you’re starting your own company some day.
My key takeaways:
1. Having the “moonshot” or 10x improvement as the goal. Ask what could be true, not what will be true 5~10 years from now.
2. Focus on the end users, not profit or partner’s profit, money will follow.
3. The distinction between the “knowledge workers” vs. “smart creatives.”
4. Optimize for scale, not revenue.
5. Hiring the learning “smart creative” not just experts. Use a committee.
6. We all need a coach if the world’s best athletes need coaches.
7. Review yourself.
8. Do trip reports in the staff meeting.
The new era with three technology trends converging: 1. Everything is online, 2. mobile devices are ubiquitous, 3. cloud computing puts practically infinite computing power and storage at everyone’s disposal. As a result: a. Speed of changes is increasing: b. product excellence is paramount. c, consumers have abundant choices, d. cost of experimentation and failure has dropped sharply, e. faster product cycle and flexible process. The contrast between “knowledge workers” and “smart creative” at Google: not confined to specific tasks, unlimited in computer access, not averse to taking risks, not hemmed in role definition or organization structures, don’t keep quiet when they disagree, get bored easily and shift jobs a lot. He/she is an expert in doing – doesn’t just design concepts, she builds prototypes. A power user, she understands her product from the user perspective…
2. Culture – Believe Your Own Slogans:
Smart Creatives place culture at the top of the list in choosing his work. To be effective, they need to care about the place they work. Define the culture you want at the onset of your company. Don’t listen to the HIPPO (Highly-Paid Person’s Opinion). Rule of Seven: Minimum of 7 direct reports per manager. P&L business units should be driven by separate external customers and partners. Do all reorgs in a day. Organize the company around the people whose impact is highest. Give people responsibility and freedom to manage their own time: work vs. life. Establish a culture of Yes. “Don’t be evil” as Google’s mantra.
3. Strategy – Your Plan Is Wrong:
Business plans are often wrong. Invest in the team, not the plan. Have the “foundation blueprint”: “Bet on technical insights (not market research) that help solve a big problem in a novel way, optimize for scale, not for revenue, and let great products grow the market for everyone.” “Tail is wagging the dog when market research becomes more important than technical innovation.” Scaling up platforms (a set of products or devices that bring together groups of users and providers to form multi-sided market) needs to be the core in the internet age, at the expense of profit. Find ways to specialize in areas that has the potential to expand, as Google does in searches. Default to open, not closed. “Open” harnesses the talents of many. Exceptions including Google’s search algorithms, to avoid people’s gaming the system. Don’t follow competition – leads to mediocrity because you can’t deliver anything truly innovative. On Strategy Meeting, start by asking what will be true in five years and work backward. The responses are different if you’re incumbents vs. challengers.
4. Talent – Hiring Is the Most Important Thing You Do:
“Herd effect” = great employees attracts more great employees. Passionate people don’t use “passionate” word. Hiring learning animals not just an expert in one area. Check the “character” by doing the “LAX test” (OK to be stranded in LAX for 6 hours). Interviews: 30-minute long and by committee, hiring packet (with best/worst answers, grades from each interviewer, school GPA and etc.). On retention: trade the M&M’s and keep the raisins (keep the top performers’ jobs interesting. Do’s: hire people who are smarter and more knowledgeable than you are, will add value to the product and culture, will get things done, enthusiastic, self-motivated, and passionate, inspire and work well with others, will grow with your team and company, well rounded, with unique interests and talents, ethical and communicate openly. Hire only when you’ve found a great candidate. Don’t settle for anything less.
5. Decisions – The True Meaning of Consensus: Using the decision to exit China, decide with data, beware of the bobbledhead yes, know when to ring the bell (biased for action), maker fewer decisions (push down decisions to lower level), meet everyday (dictate the calendar), “You’re both right” (win the hearts, not just arguments – Oprah’s Rule). About good meetings: every meeting needs an owner. The decision-maker should be hands on. Manageable in size <=8~10. Attend the meeting - don't use laptop for other purposes. Decision on spending time: spend 80% of your time on 80% of your revenue. 6. Communications – Be a Damn Good Router: Default to open – board presentation is shared with all employees in weekly TGIF meetings. Every employee shares their OKR (Objective, Key Results). Know the details and truths. It must be safe to tell the truth. Weekly “Dory” Q&A sessions with Larry and Sergey at the TGIF meetings. Start the conversation (open office hours). Repetition doesn’t spoil the prayer: ask 1) does it reinforce core themes that you want everyone to get, 2) effective, 3) interesting, fun or inspirational, 4) authentic, 5) going to the right people, 6) using the right media, 7) tell the truth, be humble, and band goodwill for a rainy day. Break the staff meeting monotony with a humble trip report. Review yourself: make sure you would work for yourself – initiate criticism of yourself gives others the freedom to be more honest. Email wisdom: 1) respond quickly, 2) every word matters, and useless prose doesn’t. 3) clean out your inbox constantly. 4) Handle in LIFO (last-in, first-out), 5) Ask who else to route the email to, 6) Don’t BCC except to a large distribution. 7) Don’t yell. 8) Forward to yourself with keywords for future search. Have a playbook. Nice 1on1 format: 1) performance and job requirements, 2) relationship with peer groups, 3) management/leadership, 4) Innovation (best practices). In board meetings, noses in, fingers out. Discuss strategies and products, not governance and lawsuits. Deal with partners like diplomats and deal with press interviews by having a conversation, not message. Have relationship, take the time to know and care about people. And don’t forget to make people smile. When praise is deserved, don’t hold back.
7. Innovation – Create the Primordial Ooze: 3 criteria to determine if Google would pursue an innovative idea: 1) addresses a big challenge or opportunity, something that affects hundreds of millions or billions of people. 2) an idea for a solution that is radically different form anything currently in the market. 3) feasible and achievable in the not too-distant future. 4) technology, how it will evolve. “Innovative people do not need to be told to do it, they need to be allowed to do it.” – needs to be evolved organically. Focus on the user, not customers, then the money will follow as in the case of Google Earth. Think Big. Think 10x. 70/20/10 resource allocation: 70% related to core business, 20% on emerging, and 10% on new things with high risk of failure. Ship and iterate like Chrome. Fail well like Google Wave. Morph ideas, don’t kill them. Management’s job is not to mitigate risks or prevent failures, but to create an environment resilient enough to take on those risks and tolerate the inevitable missteps. A good failure is a fast one. It’s NOT about money.
Conclusion: Imagine the Unimaginable: We’re in a world of “platforms” (back-and-forth relationship with consumers and suppliers. A lot more give-and-take.) instead of “corporations” (more of one-way street from production to consumers). At the corporate level, most innovative new things look like small opportunities and people aren’t rewarded for taking risks and opt for safety. Ask the hardest questions. Understanding what you do about the future, what do you see for the business that others may not, or may see but chose to ignore? (e.g. Google+) Ask not what will be true, but what could be true. What thing that is unimaginable when abiding by conventional wisdom is in fact imaginable?
Joi Ito strikes a chord with me and the central theme of this blog on how to deal with the complex world we’re living today by “having a compass and know where you’re going” then “focus on being connected, always learning, fully aware, and super present.” Don’t try to predict the future. Experiment, learn and improve continuously. Be a “now-ist.”
This is one of the great TED talk videos:
Consider yourself an entrepreneur and your career as a startup company. By developing your competitive advantage, formulating your plan to adapt, networking with others, taking advantage of breakout opportunity by taking intelligent risks, you will become a successful startup yourself, according to the book authors, who had successful startup experiences in themselves.
The authors gave many good tips like budgeting for networking, maintaining a separate identity from your job. At the end of the audiobook (bonus), the authors had a nice panel discussion between themselves and answered a few of my questions. When billionaires give you tips, you’d better listen. The only turn-offs I have are at times the author (Reid is the CEO of Linkedin) appears to be promoting LinkedIn. But overall, it’s a good read.
A quick summary:
1. All Humans are Entrepreneurs:
Why the startup of you? The world is changing, the amount of time you spend at any job is shrinking. We need to act like a entrepreneur, making decisions in an information-poor, time-compressed, resource-constrained environment. Use the backdrop of Detroit, the auto industry, the authors drilled into the points of keeping up with entrepreneur spirit. The “Permanent Beta” mind-set of never finish improving your own skill sets: all the chapters that follow.
2. Develop a competitive advantage:
You are selling your brainpower, skills and energy and doing so in the face of massive competition. Ask yourself, “A company hires me over other professionals because …” What are you offering that’s hard to come by and both rare and valuable? The three factors that influence your competitive advantage: your asset, aspiration and values, and market realities. More below:
Soft: can’t directly trade for money, intangible contributors to career success: the knowledge and information, professional connections, and the trust you’ve built up, skills you have mastered; your reputation and professional brand; you strengths (things that come easily for you).
Hard: what you list on a balance sheet: cash in the bank, and etc.
Your Aspirations and Values:
Aspirations: your deepest wishes, ideas, goals and vision of future. Values: what’s important to you in life, be it knowledge, autonomy, money, integrity, power and so on.
The Market Reality:
Andreessen’s quote, ” Markets that don’t exist don’t care how smart you are.” You aren’t entitled to anything. All advantages are local; pick a hill that has less competition.
3. Plan to Adapt:
Do both listening to your heart and listing to the market. Be true to your values and vision, yet remain flexible enough to adapt. The author introduced the idea of ABZ planning:
Plan A: what you’re doing now – your current implementation of your competitive advantage.
Plan B: what you pivot to when you need to change either your goal or the route for getting there – generally in the same ballpark as Plan A.
Plan Z: your fall back position: your lifeboat. It’s what allows you to take on Plan A and B.
Prioritize learning: prioritize plans that offer the best chance at learning about yourself and the world. What will grow your soft asset the fastest and the most learning potential.
Learn by doing: actions, not plans, generate lessons that help you test your hypotheses against reality. I particularly like this idea of maintaining a reputation and public portfolio of work that’s not tied to your employer. Then you’ll have a professional identity that you can carry with you as you shift jobs. “The best Plan B is different but very much related to what you’re already doing.” Favor options that let you keep one foot planted while the other one swings to the new territory. Pivot into an adjacent niche.
4. It takes a Network:
“The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.” “I” vs. “We” is a false choice. It’s both. Think I^We (I to the power of “We”) Like dating, have a long-term perspective. See the world from that person’s perspective. Also think how you can help and collaborate with the other person first. Think of it like ballroom dancing – move in unison, perhaps gently guiding or following. Ask “what’s in it for us?” instead of “What’s in it for me?”
Two types of relationships:
1) Professional allies: someone you consult regularly for advice, proactively share and collaborate on opportunities together, talk up/promote to other friends. A relationship that goes from being an exchange partnership to being a true alliance.
2) Weak ties and acquaintances: exposed to more information or job listings you haven’t seen – valuable in the breadth and reach of your network. Here the authors dived in the the LinkedIn functions – a bit of self promoting. Why not? It works.
How to strengthen the network: 1) offer to help. 2) gifts like relevant information and articles, introductions, and etc. 3) let yourself be helped. 4) be a bridge. 5) set up an “interesting people” fund to take people out for meals,
Navigate status dynamic when dealing with powerful people: don’t make them look bad. Actively maintain the relationships you value and consciously let fade those you do not.
5. Pursue Breakout Opportunities:
Opportunities are like the snap to the quarterback in football. Careers, like start-ups, are punctuated with breakouts. Curiosity about industries, people, and jobs will make you alert to professional opportunities. Join information groups and associations as possible. Do the hustle and be resourceful. Be resilient: when the naysayers are laud, turn up the music (Pandora). Keeping your options open is frequently more of a risk than committing to a plan of action. “Making a decision reduces opportunities in the short run, but increases opportunities in the long run.”
6. Take Intelligent Risks: “Risk” in career context is the downside consequences from a given action or decision. Pursue opportunities where other mis-perceive the risk (like Warren Buffett) – lower risk than your peers think, but are still high-reward. Short-term risk increases long-term stability. The volatility paradox: small fires prevent the big burn. Make yourself resilient to the shocks by pursuing those opportunities with some volatility baked in. Non-volatile environment give only an illusion of stability – high chance of a “black swan.” “The only long term answer to risk is resilience.”
7. Who You Know is What You Know:
“How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose.” “What will get you somewhere is being able to access the information you need, when you need it.” Your network is an indispensable source of intelligence. They offer personalized, contextualized advice, and filter information you get from other sources. Progression of literacy of reading/writing in the old days, to now search literacy and “network literacy” (knowing how to conceptualize, access, and benefit from the information flowing through your social network. Pull intelligence from your network by posing questions to the entire network or targeted individuals who are domain experts, who know you well, or just really smart people.
Asking good questions: 1) converse, don’t interrogate, 2) adjust the lens (narrowing the scope), 3) frame and prime (e.g. top 3 things did you NOT get to do and wish you did?), 4) follow up and probe. 5) push interesting information out to your network.