The film composer Tom Holkenborg talked about how he keeps getting film work in this article. He says:
If you talk to other film composers and to people who work in the industry, the fact that you’re an original, talented musician is a given fact. What is left then? It’s, how are you as a person in a room? Do you deliver on time? Do you make the movie better? Do you understand what the director wants? Can you walk that really fine line of politics when things get sour and you help solve the problem?
– Tom Holkenborg, aka JUNKIE XL, composer of “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Black Mass”
I love this. This is how I feel about work too. The fact that you’re talented and can actually do the work really well has become a given. You have to be able to go beyond that and be both great at what you do and good at actually working WITH people.
I just read this article by Michael Simmons and it was really interesting. It states that that simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success.
The idea is that people in open networks have unique challenges and perspectives. Because these curious folk are part of multiple groups, they have unique relationships, experiences, and knowledge that other people in their groups don’t. These views lead to more and better opportunities.
The chart for this is:
It also interesting to see how this played out with Steve Jobs. He always advocated for diversity of experiences. In a Wired interview in 1995, he said:
Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.
It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.
Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences.
So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.
I love this position. The experiencing of different industries, different cultures and different perspectives is a great goal to have.
An employee recently left Kapost (sad to see you go T) and i was out to lunch with her and she asked some advice. I thought back to two pieces of advice that I was given or things that i have witnessed from successful colleagues. Here’s what popped up:
“90% of Power is Taken not Given”
This is a quote from my old boss Bill Raduchel. Bill loves saying phrases like this to me, and this was one juicy nugget he spat out in 2002 when I was working at AOL. I took it to heart. I was a product manager at the time and aspired t
o have even more responsibility within the company. He noticed that and delivered this great quote. What he meant was that nobody is going to give me extra responsibility. If i want it, i have to go take it and earn it.
That’s what i did. I wanted to run video services within the company. There were lots of people running bits and pieces but nobody was owning it. Instead of waiting for a title and position to be created, i just started acting like i was the defacto video product manager. I had weekly all-hands meetings with the other stakeholders, came up with a product roadmap, and basically acted like the product owner. What happened? Eventually the company realized i was the product owner and rewarded me with that title.
In small companies there are too many things to do. In big companies there are lots of ambiguity, swirl and gray space. In both instances, there’s an opportunity to do what you want. Just be proactive and go do it. In real estate, ownership is 9/10 the law. In startups, doing is 9/10 the position.
Don’t Eat Alone
This is just something i’ve realized. Most of the people we hire at Kapost come from referrals. Most of the opportunities i’ve been given in my career come from contacts of friends of friends. The size and strength (i.e. authenticity) of your network matters in today’s work world and in your career. I’ve seen people (Nick O’Neil) go crazy about this where they actually track in a spreadsheet the people they’ve met and want to keep in touch with and make sure every X number of days that they give them an update. It may sound excessive but it works. He has a ton of connections who regularly help him out.
There’s even a pretty good book, called “Never Eat Alone” which talks about the power of these connections.
Those are two things that immediately came to mind. I’d be curious if any of you have heard any other nuggets of great advice that you’d like to share.
First, I haven’t talked much about Kapost on this blog, so i’m going to republish those questions first. Here they are:
What’s kapost all about and what makes it stand out from the competition?
Kapost is a content marketing platform. Many businesses are spending less money on ads and more money on creating their own content. The idea behind that is that you can spend $5k a month in search ads and have a spot at the top of a search results page, or you can spend $5k a month creating content and have links in the search results page. These links are more authentic and over time much more effective. But, as a result, you have many businesses becoming publishers and creating a lot of content. What Kapost does is manage that content for them and provide insight into which content is working. Similar to how a CRM like Salesforce helps a sales team organize and evaluate performance from a formalized business process, Kapost helps a marketing or publishing team organize themselves and eventuate how they are doing from a content perspective.
Just listened to a great commencement speech by Michael Lewis (aka: my google search nemesis). The end of the speech is great. He talks to the graduating Princeton class about luck and the role it plays in life. Here’s the transcript. I loved it:
I now live in Berkeley, California. A few years ago, just a few blocks from my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.
Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.
This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.
This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.
All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.
I couldn’t agree more. I feel completely lucky to be on the earth at this time, in this country, with my family and with all the other things that have fallen into place for me. It’s great to stop every now and then and acknowledge it.
I was reading BusinessWeek and there was a good interview with Cisco’s John Chambers
Companies that don’t change get left behind. Since I became CEO [in 1995], 87 percent of the companies in the Fortune 500 are off the list. What that says is that companies that don’t reinvent themselves will be left behind.
Wow. I love that. You see this all over the place. The companies that will be killing it in 10 years probably don’t even exist yet. They say that each person today will have 8 careers by the time they are 65. The world changes pretty fast now. It’s exciting.
I listened this morning to a podcast where Steve Jobs was interviewed at the All Things D conference. He talked (around 45 min mark) about the post-PC world. I thought it was a pretty interesting analogy He states:
When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks because that’s what you needed on the farm. As vehicles started to be used in urban centers, and as America started to move into those urban centers, cars got more popular and innovations like automatic transmissions, power steering and things you didn’t care about in a truck started to become paramount in cars. Today, maybe 1 in 25 or 1 in 30 vehicles is a truck where it used to be 100%. PC’s are going to be like trucks. They will still be around and provide a lot of value but they will be used by 1 out of X people.
This transformation will make some people uneasy. People from the PC world, like you and me becasue PC’s have taken us a long way. It’s brilliant. We talk about the post-PC era but when it really starts to happen, i think it’s uncomfortable for a lot of people. Because it’s change. A lot of vested interests will change. Things will be different. I think we’re embarked on that. Is it the iPad? Who knows? Will it happen next year, 5 years from now, 7 years from now? Who knows? But we’re headed there.
The post-PC world is interesting. I find myself doing more and more on my iPhone and i can see a day where i don’t bring my laptop with me on trips anymore as the iPad and a keyboard will be plenty.
Lo, in the twilight days of the second year of the second decade of the third millennium did a great darkness descend over the wireless internet connectivity of the people of 276 Ferndale Street in the North-Central lands of Iowa. For many years, the gentlefolk of these lands basked in a wireless network overflowing with speed and ample internet, flowing like a river into their Compaq Presario. Many happy days did the people spend checking Hotmail and reading USAToday.com.
But then one gray morning did Internet Explorer 6 no longer load The Google. Refresh was clicked, again and again, but still did Internet Explorer 6 not load The Google. Perhaps The Google was broken, the people thought, but then The Yahoo too did not load. Nor did Hotmail. Nor USAToday.com. The land was thrown into panic. Internet Explorer 6 was minimized then maximized. The Compaq Presario was unplugged then plugged back in. The old mouse was brought out and plugged in beside the new mouse. Still, The Google did not load. Continue reading “Fixing WiFi”→
There is an ancient Chinese story of an old master potter who attempted to develop a new glaze for his porcelain vases. It became the central focus of his life. Everyday he tended the flames of his kilns to a white heat, controlling the temperature to an exact degree. Every day he experimented with the chemistry of the glazes he applied, but still he could not achieve the beauty he desired and imagined was possible in a glaze. Finally, having tried everything he decided his meaningful life was over and walked into the molten heat of the fully fired kiln. When his assistants opened up the kiln and took out the vases, they found the glaze on the vases the most exquisite they had ever encountered. The master himself had disappeared into his creations.
Working within a company so long, it’s easy to see how your blood and bone can become part of the product and ultimately make something truly unique. Giving a company your all, walking into the fire is both painful and pretty romantic. The poet, David Whyte talks about this proverb, saying:
Work is the very fire where we are baked to perfection, and like the master of the fire itself, we add the essential ingredient and fulfillment when we walk into the flames ourselves and fuel the transformation of ordinary, everyday forms into the exquisite and the rare.
It’s an interesting analogy because in you can see that the potter, in disappearing into the kiln, he created something he loved and something truly special, but he also dies. In doing his work he ceases to be a person that the rest of the world can interact with and relate to.
The following advice below the image is from Scott Adams, the creator and writer of the comic strip Dilbert. I was talking with my sister about careers the other day and this sprung to mind. It’s not a specific roadmap but something to keep in mind as you accrue experience.
If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:
Become the best at one specific thing.
Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.
The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.
The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.
…Get a degree in business on top of your engineering degree, law degree, medical degree, science degree, or whatever. Suddenly you’re in charge, or maybe you’re starting your own company using your combined knowledge.
Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. You make yourself rare by combining two or more “pretty goods” until no one else has your mix…
It sounds like generic advice, but you’d be hard pressed to find any successful person who didn’t have about three skills in the top 25%.