Learning the Language of Growth

mad men


I just finished my second week at Reforge and if I had to sum up the week, it’s this:

I’m learning a new language — and it’s hard.

Reforge teaches growth professionals how to advance their skills in growth through online education, networking and mentorship. The students are 3 years into their career at companies like Facebook, Google, Dropbox, LinkedIn, etc. aka some damn smart people.

And after 5 minutes of talking with them, I realize I don’t have the vocabulary (yet) to talk through the ideas and concepts I’ll eventually teach, things like growth models, churn, and viral loops, just to scratch the surface. 90% of the time I’m just a smiling sponge in my chair, trying to absorb as much as I can.

That’s just part of the game. At I Will Teach, we called this “starting with a child’s mind.” The better you are at that, the easier everything else gets.

Fortunately, I’ve done my fair share of starting with a child’s mind. Years ago I moved to Los Angeles, with no idea that Hollywood had a its own language and cadence. I learned it slowly and painfully from scratch.

Racheline Benveniste patiently explained that everyone takes lunch at 1 pm and what the difference is between a studio and a prod co and who had overall deals where. Brian Lipson taught me how net receipts and MAGR work, and still will patiently explain how package percentage points work. Once, I asked Amy Schiffman what a mensch was.

“Wow, you are green,” she said.

Even with all that help, it took me 3 years to really build fluency in Hollywood. 3 years of straight grinding. That means: writing everyday, covering at least 5 scripts per week, and breaking down entire seasons of TV shows — for funsies.

Mad Men Notes

Deadwood Notes

Why bring this up? Because even though now I’m learning growth and startup culture instead of Hollywood and entertainment, the steps to fluency are the same. It boils down to balancing 2 ideas:

Know what you don’t know. Don’t bullshit. If you’re good, you’ll fool some people, but you’ll never fool the people who matter. Be humble. Be gracious. Ask a ton of questions. In the beginning, I start most questions with: “I’m new to this so it might be stupid to ask but…”

And know what you do know. Know where you add value and execute against that. I don’t know the concepts and frameworks of growth yet, but I can glance at the curriculum and tell you there’s a better way to teach it.

I know I can take a course and articulate what a new user is thinking and feeling at minute 00:13 or 16:03 of a video… And how to make sure that content sticks in their head.

And I know I can become fluent in this new language.

It’s just a matter of time.

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