The Power of the Personal Committee

Tips for Assembling and Using a Personal Committee to its Full Potential

As your work takes you to new places, there are more reasons than ever to gather early feedback. For this purpose, I propose what I call the personal committee. The committee has gotten a bad reputation recently, so let me explain how this is better than abhorred concepts such as “design by committee”. A personal committee is a group of people who, separately but simultaneously, act as a sounding board for a project. The project can be anything from a new business or new market to a career change.

The concept and its practice are very flexible. Personal committees can function by formal or informal arrangement; communication can be virtual or in person, and members can include mentors and peers. The committee is comprised of individuals you consult at the same time, but they need not know or interact with one another. The magic of the personal committee is twofold–it can serve to keep you on track and provide early and frequent feedback in an otherwise lonely endeavor.

Here are some tips for assembling and using a personal committee to its full potential.

Select. Choose candidates for your personal committee who have some knowledge, experience or connections relevant to your goal. Look for individuals with whom you are already acquainted, and to whom you do not report in your day job, if your endeavor is outside it.

Pitch. Thinking like a recruiter, craft an introduction that crows your past accomplishments, and gives a compelling case for the purpose and benefits of your next project. Think through the committee process, and provide a general scope (such as frequency of contact and the number of project milestones). Your recruit will be in a better position to consider the commitment with knowledge of the undertaking.

Engage. Begin with a live meeting, if possible. Discuss your goals, strengths and weaknesses, as well as what you are looking for from a personal committee. Based on the immediate feedback, move forward with a suggested touchpoint cadence.

Collect feedback. Find ways to report updates, provide project artifacts and collect feedback on a regular basis. Revealing your work will likely push you into uncomfortable territory, since your project is large and challenging. Be realistic about the volume you plan to complete for each milestone, and monitor your own B.S. meter if you find yourself delaying. Be aware of twin schedule tensions. Give yourself too much time, and you may be too paralyzed to complete anything. On the other hand, if you try to compress work that requires a great deal of consideration by promising it too early, you may cause yourself stress. As a rule, rather than trying to “perfect” your work and deliver it all at once, share well thought-out chunks frequently. That way, you’ll get the most benefit from feedback.

Appreciate. Find ways to thank your personal committee members. Write them recommendations, include them in your dedications, thank them in your speeches, and provide professional referrals in your day-to-day. These gestures will go a great distance to demonstrate the value peer committee members contribute to your work.

Ready to give it a try? I’d like to hear about your personal committee experiences!

4 Innovation Strategies Learned from Elon Musk

Few people have made the as much impact in such a short career as Elon Musk, arguably among the greatest business people and inventors of our time. What makes him so successful? Below I share thoughts on four observations of his career over time. Follow his lead, and you too could be innovating like Musk.

  1. Make cool stuff. Without a doubt, one of the most significant things about Musk—he ships. He envisions, executes and delivers one project after another, and often with some more in between. He has established a pattern of joining teams and seeing delivery through to the finish line. From his first product, a video game he coded and sold before entering high school called Blastar, to his most recent concept-driven organization, OpenAI, Musk has delivered product after product, some of which have sold for mind-boggling sums (examples include Zip2 and PayPal).
  2. Help the competition. While it goes against the grain, Musk has pioneered the idea of benefitting the competition in more ways than one. Perhaps most significantly, he has gained long term investment in his supply chain by selling into the other OEMs. Namely, he provides electric powertrain components to other automakers, a relationship that has helped him make Tesla more viable. As another example, he has adopted open source methods for product development, namely with the Hyperloop concept and Tesla patents. Rather than developing and hoarding knowledge, he has provided a framework to the development community so it can realize industry-wide innovation at a faster rate. Sharing hard-won knowledge is an excellent ways to gain support and buy in, and can be used by any innovator seeking to disrupt the status quo.
  3. Develop a vision and share it. Musk has an uncanny ability to forecast what will be important in the future. In 2004, he began working with Tesla, even as the idea of electric vehicles had been sidelined as a niche market by major auto manufacturers. His goals aim high, focusing on sustaining the environment for generations to come through innovations such as those tied to energy sustainability and interplanetary colonization. Another Musk trademark is efficient transportation, such as his Hyperloop and Musk electric jet projects. To innovate like Musk, curate a range of projects that contribute to your vision, and make others take notice.
  4. Find inspiration around you. Reportedly the inspiration for Musk’s SolarCity concept was at Burning Man, the desert arts festival. Musk takes in the environment, sees opportunity, and expresses concepts that fulfill wants and needs. His style is an excellent example of finding and making great use of the inspiration that’s all around.

Consider adapting some of Musk’s signature strategies into your toolkit for bringing dramatic change to your industry. If you can ship, pull in supporters from all corners, crystallize and share a vision, and draw on your environment to continue generating new ideas, you are well on your way to innovating like Elon Musk.