2014  January 11

Putting People At Ease

Last week was my first one in the “Design and Venture” world. I kept mental note of one particular event that stayed with me, and I keep coming back to it in my mind because I know it’s key.

There were three young men doing their pitch for an idea ... and then a segue to that all important moment of “the demo.” I know that moment well from my time at the Media Lab when “demo or die” was the raison d'etre of the 80s and 90s in the tech-research world. As someone who oversaw or participated in the many moments where the demo ... died, I know all too well the feeling of dismay and heartache when the demo worked "a minute ago" and for some reason it had decided to go fishing ... just as you’ve asked everyone to put all their eyeball energy on it.

So, the setup was all fine and we were starting on time. I saw it working on the way into the room. And then, fifteen minutes into the pitch, we all turned to the demo. It wasn’t syncing anymore to the display screens. Then, the moment of despair appeared in the eyes of the three young men. The jiggle of a cable. The seating and re-seating of the connector. Blowing into the connection to imagine that dust might be affecting the problem. Followed by the curious look to the ceiling to imagine there’s some wireless wave that is bouncing around the room aimlessly that you might be able to redirect with your brain and gaze. I think you know what I’m talking about.

But then, while this all-too-well-known scene was occurring, one of the key partners at the venture capital firm that I’m at said softly and concernedly, “Is that *our* fault? Is there something wrong with the setup of our room? I’m so sorry if that’s the case.” And it immediately put the three young men at ease. I immediately wondered how in the many times in the past when I had been on the cable-jiggling end or the “waiting for the demo to be shown to me” end ... whether I had exhibited or felt such compassion before? I made a mental note to be sure to do so, when on the being-pitched-to end, in the future. It was a simple, elegant act of leadership.

It reminded me of a similar moment from a few years ago when I saw another leader in the venture world do a similar thing with great creativity and empathy. 

Boy, do I have a lot to learn! I’m excited to get to do so in what remains of my second quarter. -JM

Making others feel at ease ensures they can take their biggest risks and do their boldest work.

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