Nov 8 2012

Two Ears, One Mouth

Two Ears, One Mouth

Brace yourself for a post full of pithy quotes from others.  I’m not sure how we missed this one when drafted our original values statements at Return Path years ago, because it’s always been central to the way we operate.  We aren’t just the world’s biggest data-driven email intelligence company – we are a data-driven organization.  So another one of our newly written Core Values is:

Two Ears, One Mouth:  We ask, listen, learn, and collect data.  We engage in constructive debate to reach conclusions and move forward together.

I’m not sure which of my colleagues first said this to me, but I’m going to give credit to Anita, our long-time head of sales (almost a decade!), for saying “There’s a reason God gave you two ears and one mouth.”  The meaning?  Listen (and look, I suppose) more than you speak.

This value really has two distinct components to it, though they’re closely related.  First, we always look to collect data when we need to understand a situation or make a decision.  To quote our long-time investor, Board member, and friend Brad Feld, “the plural of anecdote is not data.”  That means we are always looking far and wide for facts, numbers, and multiple perspectives.  Some of us are better than others at relying on second-hand data and observations from trusted colleagues, which means often times, many of us are collecting data ourselves to inform a situation.  But regardless, we always start with the data.

Second, we use data as the foundation of our decision-making process.  I heard another great quote about this once, which is something like, “If we are going to make a decision based on data, the data will make the decision for us.  If we’re going to use opinion, let’s use mine.”  And while I’m at it, I’ll throw in another great quote from Winston Churchill who famously said “Facts are stubborn things.”  While we do have constructive debates all across our organization, those debates are driven by facts, not emotion.

Finally, when this value says that “we move forward together,” that is the combination of the points in the two prior paragraphs.  People may have different opinions entering a debate.  Even with a lot of data behind a decision, they may still have different opinions after a decision has been made.  But we work very deliberately to all support a decision, even one we may disagree with, and we are able to do that, move forward together, and explain the decision to the organization, because the decision is data-driven.