Laura Beckman story


Today Yahoo announces its third quarter results as much of the financial community tunes in to hear the latest from Melissa Mayer, the catalyst shifting the fortunes for this Internet veteran company. I’ve not been a big fan of her approach to flexible working, but I am intrigued by her story especially as recounted by Nicholas Carlson in his piece “The Truth About Marissa Mayer: An Unauthorized Biography”. My favourite part was her ‘Laura Beckman story’…

  • “When people ask Mayer why she joined Google after getting her masters in symbolic systems at Stanford, she likes to tell them her ‘Laura Beckman story.’ …Mayer begins: ‘Laura tried out for the volleyball team her junior year at high school. At the end of the tryouts, she was given a hard choice: bench on varsity, or start on JV.  Most people, when they’re faced with this choice, would choose to play – and they’ll pick JV. Laura did the opposite. She chose varsity, and she benched the whole season.  But then an amazing thing happened. Senior year she tried out and she made varsity as a starter, and all the JV starters from the previous year benched their whole senior year.  I remember asking her: ‘How did you know to choose varsity?’  And she said, ‘I just knew that if I got to practice with the better players every day, I would become a much better player, even if I didn’t get to play in any of the games.’”  The moral of Mayer’s story is that it’s always better to surround yourself with the best people so that they will challenge you and you will grow.  ‘My quest to find, and be surrounded by, smart people is what brought me to Google,’ she says.”

One of my acid tests in interviewing people is asking myself “Did I learn anything new from that person?” I will typically delve into some part of their CV or resume that I know little to nothing about which provides the candidate with an opportunity to illuminate this foreign area to me. It’s not just about the knowing, but it’s also about the imparting. Some people know lots of stuff, but struggle to share that insight effectively with others. That knowledge might be helpful to them and their performance, but without sharing, it’s of little use to my team. I expect every one of my team to know lots of stuff I don’t know and thereby allow me to embrace many failures of knowledge.