Last month marked the end of 5 years as a researcher at Riot Games. I learned so, so much during my time there. There are, however, a few lessons that stand out to me above all the others. These are the things I think I’ll carry with me throughout the rest of my career:
- How to give feedback
- How to fail
- How to steel man
- How to pick my battles
- How to (really, actually) listen
How to give feedback: Start from a place of curiosity. Understand the goals of the work or the impact the person wanted to have. Be specific. Make it actionable. Call out your assumptions. Trust intent and competency. I especially like the McKinsey-style of feedback: what did the person intend, what was the impact, how could they improve to more effectively achieve the intended impact going forward.
How to fail: Be brave. Go outside your comfort zone, it’s impossible to grow if you don’t. It’s okay to make mistakes — but learn from them. Don’t make the same ones over and over. Take ownership. Reflect on your process as much as the outcomes. It’s possible to fail even if your process was good (and vice versa)! Know what went wrong. Keep the baby and throw out the bath water.
How to steel man: Steel-manning is the opposite of straw manning. In straw-manning, you reduce someone else’s argument to something that is easy to dismiss. In steel-manning, you strengthen your critic’s point of view as much as possible to make sure you understand it. When you disagree with someone, put yourself in their head. Go out of your way to see their viewpoint. Imagine how you could make their argument as strong as possible. Where does your original argument fall apart? This will have one of two effects. Either your argument will become stronger… or you’ll realize you were wrong. Both are valuable outcomes.
How to pick my battles: Not every battle is worth fighting. We all have limited “emotional chips” we can spend at the table. When thinking about whether to pick up a new project, to give feedback, or to engage in a debate: consider the return on investment. Is this important? Do I understand the context? Does my involvement add value?
How to really, actually listen: When listening to others — stop thinking about what you’re going to say next, your overflowing to-do list, or how you’d solve this problem. Listen for what they aren’t saying. Don’t be afraid of silence. Ask powerful questions. Repeat back what you hear to make sure you understand. Take time to let ideas land. Listening is the most underutilized skill in the industry. Growing this skill is a powerful competitive advantage.