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Nothing Done Well is Done Alone
Allowing your work to be edited is hard, frustrating, and incredibly necessary.
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson got the call: “We’re leaving England and we need someone to let them know. Mind drafting up our breakup letter?”
He was chosen for his ability to write seriously and eloquently, for this letter was essentially to say “it’s not you, it’s just everything you stand for”. In two days, Jefferson had drafted The Declaration of Independence_v1.
And then came the hardest part.
For the next few days, Jefferson sat in the Continental Congress while 50+ representatives tore it apart. Whole swaths were deleted.
A passage in which he blamed George III for slavery while Jefferson himself was a thriving slaveowner got nixed by his confused fellow southerners. His claim that England did nothing to help with first settling the colonies was found to be excessive. And his last passage, in which he argued to “forget our former love for… our British brethren” due to Britain’s continued attempts to kill colonists, was crossed out given most representatives still had friends back in the home country.¹
Compare this to your own work. Let’s say you are building a pitch deck for your next fundraise.
You frame out the argument, you craft a narrative, you lay out what each slide should contain, you work on each slide to ensure the language resonates with your vision of the company, and you analyze the numbers to show where you’ve seen the most success. In the end, when you’re flipping through the book imagining giving the presentation to a VC, you’re thinking “this exact pitch deck is really going to resonate with them.”
When you go to show it to other people, you might ask for comments, but really you’re showing it to them knowing how impressed they’ll be. You’re asking for validation, not edits.
But the comments come anyway. “Wait, so is your Total Addressable Market $750mm or $15bn? I’m confused by these two slides.” “What’s this bolded term mean?” “This slide doesn’t really fit here, I’d just throw it in the appendix or delete it entirely.” “This page has potential but needs to be redesigned completely.”
You are now Jefferson seeing his specifically crafted language and soaring arguments about the future of his country face the cold criticism of colleagues who just don’t get it.
Yet this is where your work attains greatness. Don’t argue against a colleague’s “I don’t get it”. Don’t start explaining it to them, defeating the entire point of the exercise. Listen to people when they give you feedback because they’re not lying to you. If they don’t get it, that’s a you problem. If you’re asking for the feedback of people you trust, you have to trust their comments.
Terms you use might be common knowledge in your specific company or industry, but making them clearer will help the conversations with a broader set of investors.
If someone tells you they got to slide 5 and they’re still not quite sure what the company does, it reveals that you took the company for granted because you live in it every day.
A cold read can lead to cold comments, and that’s what you should want. The Declaration of Independence had over 50 people debating and revising it for days on end. Ben Franklin recalls that Jefferson was in “obvious pain” for the entirety of the process. Yet it has stood the test of time. Give yourself the same opportunity.
Put your entire heart and head into the first draft of an endeavor, and then detach as quickly as possible. The more you can look at it with the same cold eyes as your critics will, the better the final product will be.
 American Sphinx, Ellis