By Ivan Meakins with Dan Lyons
The art of shutting up
Would most businesses be better off if founders kept their mouths shut once in a while?
Dan Lyons certainly thinks so. Dan is the New York Times bestselling author of STFU: The Power of Keeping Your Mouth Shut in an Endlessly Noisy World. After a moment of introspection where he realised that most of his problems were caused by talking too much, Dan began to think of it from a wider perspective.
How can we, especially as entrepreneurs, benefit from being silent?
A call for change
Dan: “I was complaining to my book agent about an incident that had gotten me into a bit of trouble. I remember saying to her, ‘I really just need to learn how to shut the fu*k up.’ And that became the idea for a new book. So I started thinking about it more, and I began to think about how talking too much in my own life had caused problems. This birthed two new questions for me. Why do some people talk too much? And how can you fix it?”
One thing that stands out about Dan’s call for founders to “STFU” is that all humans – whether entrepreneurs, managers, or parents – could benefit from talking less. In his case, it helped him unlock new potential in his kids.
Dan: “There’s a lot of research that suggests that talking less or under-talking can actually benefit you in a lot of ways in your career, during negotiations, and even in romantic relationships or partnerships. If you learn to talk less, you’ll get more.
But another thing I realised – especially with my kids – was that you can actually make the lives of the people around you better by talking less and listening instead. And it applies both at home and at work. So, if you’re a manager and your goal is to bring out the best in the people who work with you, this really applies in that context.”
How to strike the right balance between talking and listening
One defining trait of successful entrepreneurs is the ability to smooth-talk an entire room of people. As Dan points out, if you’re able to walk into a room with nothing but a PowerPoint and a story and walk out with millions of dollars, you’re equipped with an incredible skill – one that many people seem to lack.
However, once you move past the initial fundraising stage, it’s time to sit back and acquire a new skill: listening.
Dan: “At this stage, you need to shut up and listen to the people who work for you and around you. You don’t always have to be the smartest person in the room. In fact, listening actually does make you the smartest person in the room.
When writing my book, I interviewed an entrepreneur who advises startup founders, and the biggest thing he teaches them is how to listen. According to one of his team members, a lot of startup founders are typically terrible listeners. But it’s a skill that can be learned over time.”
Dan describes the process of acquiring this new skill as a 180-degree switch. Once you’ve leveraged your knowledge and communication skills to rise to a certain degree, you need to flip the switch and become a listener.
Unfortunately, this often turns out to be the tipping point for many founders. Most entrepreneurs who can’t make this pivot often crash and burn, while the successful ones are those who can transition seamlessly from smooth-talkers to active listeners.
Can listening help you build better products?
It’s interesting how listening could also be the difference between a successful product launch and one that flops in the market.
Recently, there’s been a shift in leadership expectations. Today’s founders are no longer expected to lead from the top. Instead, there’s a call for founders to take a more humble and quiet approach across the board.
But how does this apply to tech businesses?
One thing Dan stresses is the importance of flipping over the current startup model and utilising a feedback-first approach.
Dan: “There’s something called the lean startup methodology, which is very popular now. And the entire idea is for founders not to start by building the product first. That’s the biggest mistake people make. Many founders come up with a cool idea for a product, develop a business plan, and then go out in search of customers.
But the lean startup model advises that you flip this structure upside down. Instead of building the product, you first speak to about a hundred potential customers and listen actively. Ask them what their problems are and start working towards creating a solution. The goal here isn’t to figure out what you want to make but what the customers need.”
With this new model, you’ve already cinched one of the most important factors: customer demand. Additionally, you have a working knowledge of the end goal, which then allows you to properly iterate the MVP until you arrive at the final product.
One thing to note is that coding isn’t the most important step here; it’s listening to potential customers, garnering feedback, and then applying it throughout the development process.
That’s what truly makes the difference.
Has Dan inspired you to talk less and listen more? For more of his insights, check out his book, STFU: The Power of Keeping Your Mouth Shut in an Endlessly Noisy World.
If you enjoyed this blog or listened to the Climb podcast and wanted some advice on how to create regular thought leadership content for your business, get in touch with Write Business Results today.