What I learned as a Techfest organizer

This post is a long time coming. 5 years, to be exact. Techfest is an annual science and technology festival organized by students at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay. I had the good fortune to be one of the organizers for the 2011-12 edition. This was my (and probably most organizers’) first experience taking on an endeavor of this magnitude, so there was plenty to learn, whether by getting it right or wrong. I got a more of it wrong than I did right, so a lot of this is “wish I’d realized it earlier”.

Some of this could sound obvious, so feel free to skip ahead if it does. These views are my own (and I obviously don’t speak for Techfest the organization).

  1. Good luck played an important role in your “achievements”. Other, more hardworking or deserving people could have “achieved” what you did with different luck.
  2. What looks like an “achievement” on the outside is really an opportunity, and you alone responsible to learn from the opportunities you get
  3. The first few days in a new org/team set the tone for the rest of your tenure. So work extra hard, contribute extra-much, and the first impression you create will be better. It is way way harder to reverse a bad impression.
  4. In a generalist role, playing to your strengths only buys you time to address your weaknesses. Consistently underperforming even in a few areas will get you relegated to the B team.
  5. Ideas are only ok, and great execution beats ideas every day. An average idea executed well is 100x better than a fantastic idea executed like shit
  6. Knowing your weaknesses is useful only if you actively work to get better. Otherwise it helps you about as much as being ignorant.
  7. There is no shame in taking help, even from your peers. Help in return where you can.
  8. Good leaders listen to their team more than they talk. A good leader asks questions and pushes the team’s thinking. A good leader does not impose their opinions on the team.
  9. You can be a “quiet” and effective leader at the same time. Leaders do not need to be Type A personalities.
  10. Don’t solve for likeability. Solve for execution and help where you can. Indirectly solve for likeability
  11. Have strong, justified opinions, but there is no shame in changing them when presented with evidence. Don’t worry about saving face.
  12. Not everyone on the team is playing for the same things. If this is proving to be problematic, address it upfront. If not, don’t bother.
  13. “Tag teaming” in group discussions helps, but only until the pattern is recognized. You want to avoid “X always supports Y for some reason”.
  14. Learn to make friends with your colleagues. Time spent not working is when most bonding happens
  15. It is better to be on time with 80% quality than consistently late with 100% quality. Put differently by Oliver Emberton on Quora, the most successful people deliver i) great quality output ii) reliably on time iii) while being goo d to work with. And you only need to get 2 out of the 3 right.
  16. There is in fact such a thing as a “rockstar” performer, and you should try to pick up their good habits.
  17. Don’t panic, it’s not the end of the world if something goes wrong

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