5 Words My Boss Timed Perfectly as an Antidote to my Feelings of Self-Doubt

Twitter style words are poignantly powerful than the strongest physical force

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In life, we go through many conversations without recall, but there are moments when some words, like memorable quotes, penetrate deep into our heart and are chiseled deep in our head. Among them, some of them become the best advice that we take it to heart. I still remember the setting where I received mine.

Rare Quotable Quote

About 15 years ago, I had a boss change, by the quirk of reorganization, I was reporting directly to an executive leader who happened to have a technical background, now in a senior management role. I was in his big office, seated on one side of a round table and we just finished a meeting.

As he was about to move back to his desk, I stopped him in his tracks with a general question. He had taken a liking for me and sensed that I had some self doubts. I ventured to ask — “You are one of the few folks who has bridged the gap between being technically savvy and a management role. What is your secret sauce?”

He gave me a smile and said — “Be more accurate than precise.” I gave a look, best way to describe the look in words- “Looks innocuous, what is the insight?”

He gave me an encore smile, without saying a word, pulled out a plain sheet of paper and drew three pictures and asked me to rank order them. I looked at the sheet, now, it was my turn to smile. At first glance, words like accurate and precise would mean almost the same. The challenge is the word “almost” inserted in between. The three diagrams are below:

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The left dartboard is always the ideal, first choice. In real life, the location of the bullseye and sometimes even the dartboard, is never known ahead. It is a very good, educated guess- at best. In that context, being approximately right (the picture in the middle) trumps precisely wrong (the third picture).

The implication of this important subtlety became more apparent to me in the last 15 years. If you boil down many of the varying points between many folks — the underlying theme is the difference in rank ordering of the dartboards! I have observed that, if we know something well, without even realizing it, we tend to get precise. I often wonder if it is part of “curse of expert knowledge?”

This best advice, opened my eyes to this human nature — the more we know a subject, the tendency is to get precise- and an awareness of when it happens is a secret to success.

Encapsulating the Essence

There is a famous MasterCard tagline — there are some things money cannot buy, for everything else, there is MasterCard. Extrapolating to jobs- they are important few jobs that need to be both accurate and precise, for everything else, be more accurate than precise. Personally, this secret sauce- to cross the chasm between technical and business world with dexterity, has been priceless.

The leap of faith, that enabled blurring of the lines, could be best described as the transformation of a moth into a butterfly. For that, I am thankful to my former boss for sharing his best advice- at first blush looks mundane, but digging deeper, it is simple yet powerfully insightful.

Five words, Twitter style from my boss made me aware of the quirks of analysis paralysis, curse of knowledge and many more. Those five words are:

Be more accurate than precise.

Karthik Rajan

P.S. This is in response to Editorial Calendar request… Honest leadership: Managers, CEOs, and founders going beyond boilerplate business advice to share real stories.

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