Earlier in my career, my manager would ask: “Brian, what is your Teachable Point of View?”
“Teachable,” of course, threw me off. What makes a point of view teachable?
On his whiteboard, he drew something like this:
Ideas Aren’t Everything
“Ideas are good,” my manager said, “but how are you going to motivate or influence an organization with an idea?” (and in my experience, there’s no shortage of great ideas in product).
Instead, he offered, take the idea, tie it to a core value (of an individual or group), and deliver it with a story that comes from your depth of experience. That’s what makes your point of view teachable. It’s a mechanism that creates more substance around your idea, which in turn can function to energize and inspire the team to act on it.
Depth of experience is part of what makes a leader. Our past has taught us what to do in difficult situations, when is the right time to act, and why certain challenges require different approaches. It’s precisely our ability to draw from our past failures, successes, and everything in between, that can help us motivate others. But to be able to use this past, we need to translate it into a narrative that our team can relate to and get behind.
That’s why portability is the key purpose of a teachable POV. You want to create substance that people can both internalize and share with others. If your story is emotionally resonant for your team, they can then retell it, and it becomes contagious.
Getting Beyond Ideas
Here’s an example of what making your POV teachable looks like:
My POV: In order to create amazing software experiences that create delight, every person on the team needs to develop deep customer empathy.
Making it teachable:
A few years ago, an engineer and I went to go observe one of our customers. We wanted to watch this customer run payroll (since we were building a payroll product). About 20 minutes into our session, Matt gets up unexpectedly and walks out of our customer’s office. It was odd, but I apologized to our customer and we carried on.
As soon as we were done, I sent a quick text to Matt:
– “where are you?”
So I went back to our office. To be honest, at that point I was a bit worried. This was unusual behavior, and I didn’t really know what to expect. But when I got back, I saw Matt furiously working away at his desk.
– “Matt? What’s up, man?”
– “I can fix this. What I said? The issue with pay stub not rendering … I can fix it!”
The minute Matt saw an issue, he went to go fix it. He had urgency because he directly felt the customer pain and had empathy. This is what empathy does: it drives maniacal focus.
What Will You Remember?
Now, think about this article. If you had just read the first part, you probably would have forgotten it right away. You’ve read dozens of articles and watched plenty of videos that are meant to inspire you. Some were probably very insightful, and a few may have actually had even better schematics than the one above. But when asked to repeat them, what do you remember?
Had I not told you Matt’s story, you probably wouldn’t have been able to relay the gist of this article tomorrow. But this story is something that you can retell, in which case, I have passed on my POV successfully. In a noisy world, a great story ultimately wins out over a disembodied good idea.