American Express Forum - June 22, 2012 - Jury Duty: nuisance of the busy, scourge of the entrepreneur. But even though it can be seriously disruptive for someone cranking to get a project off the ground, there are a few important lessons the experience offers. Having just gotten done being impaneled, here are my top five:
1. When put on the spot, people tend to be honest.
2. Keep an open mind.
3. Respect process.
4. Most people are very different from you.
5. Just because things are screwed up, you don't get to stop trying your best.
Having been called for jury duty a number of times, I was most impressed with the judge for this last case. He was remarkably considerate, reasonable, meticulous and straightforward. I was shocked after the trial ended to learn that during our recesses he was seeing other cases. (Court must end by 4:45 pm because the state can't afford to pay overtime.) The takeaway here is that when you feel hopelessly trapped, like the situation is unsalvageable, that is the time when you must do things right. Though your project may not be a literal life-and-death matter, part of being a good entrepreneur is to always perform as if it were. My jury was in New York City, and we were made up of ad execs, filmmakers, artists, lawyers and the unemployed. We were every race you could imagine, and ages ranged from just over 18 to the impossibly old. Even in less stereotypically diverse scenarios, its important to remember that you can't expect everyone to share the same expectations and assumptions. This is especially important in business because miscommunication is the harbinger of inefficiency, and the best way to not communicate effectively is to assume everyone understands and accepts things they don't. Sure, viewed from the fast-moving world of an entrepreneur, jury trials are processes run amok. But even in the most agile industry, process can be the difference between hopefully stumbling into the right result, and making success the core of your very business. This is not to say, however, that everything needs to become a rigid routine. One of the best signs of a strong process is when time is built in to discuss and refine the process itself. As in a court case, its rare to be able to distill down the salient elements of a big decision to such a degree that you can have everything in front of you at once. Taking the time to examine the data in full, before forming an opinion, prevents you from getting so entrenched that you bend facts to fit a concept, or worse, becoming so personally committed to the idea that disagreements feel like attacks. Given jury duty's massive inconvenience, its easy to assume that only the idle would allow themselves to be trapped in its amber. What I found remarkable was how many professionals were honest about being reasonable, and stepped up to do their duty when a colorful tale about running a cobra/mongoose fighting operation would have normally had them back at work faster than a speeding Town Car. The fact that most people, when put on the spot, are honest is a very good lesson to remember when hiring, negotiating and generally communicating.
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