Frankly Speaking: How I Shared Inspiration

This post is not about the mere present. It is about the past, the future, those who blazed your trails, and those who will fill your footprints. More than what you take with you, It’s what you leave behind.

Illustrations by @Mikebowser

For the past few years I have been drafting a personal development playbook based on my social experiments and research as a young professional.

Initially, the project was just a way for me to explore and reflect on my professional successes and failures. It seemed like a fun and simple self-discovery exercise. But over time I realized that my notes were actually helping me make smarter decisions and face down new challenges in the workplace. I was capitalizing on my earlier experience, becoming more engaged in my career and starting to understand who I wanted to become professionally.

I thought, maybe I am onto something here, so I shared my personal project with close friends, who encouraged me to make what I’d learned available to other young professionals. Could my personal diary actually turn into a way for me to help my peers? It had certainly helped me.

From early feedback here on Medium to collaboration with professionals from a wide array of disciplines, I’ve had many more chances to test the ideas that comprise my playbook. It’s only fitting, then, that the last part of this project is dedicated to the importance of giving back, inspiring others. And I hope this guide can do the same for other young professionals: to help them accelerate their career and do good along the way.

Rule # 25 Acknowledge Forward

Give co-workers their due credit and then some more.

“Be an ecourager. The world has plenty of critics already. ” — Dave Willis

Oil baron John D. Rockefeller once discovered his employees smoking where it was not allowed. But Rockefeller didn’t bark at the men. Instead, he joined them and accepted a cigarette. Then he told his workers that their work was appreciated and asked, good-naturedly, if next time they would smoke elsewhere.

Rockefeller knew that people like to be acknowledged for their work even when they make mistakes. Today’s top executives know this too: according to the Aberdeen Group, a majority of best-in-class organizations rank employee recognition as extremely valuable in driving individual performance.

I found this tenet to be true when I led a small team of designers and programmers in the Hearst Media Design Competition. It was an all-star cast, but with one wild card, who struggled to keep up with the other team members. So I became his cheerleader. I praised his progress every single day; I texted and called him to say how well he was doing. Within two weeks, his improvement was unbelievable. He was working better, faster and more creatively. He even proposed a solution for a complex problem we encountered at the beginning of the project. Our team went on to win the competition and present our work to the Chief Technology Officer at Hearst.

THE TAKEAWAY: Give peers their due credit, and then some more. Make connections between their input and your own. Using six simple words — “This goes back to your point” — you acknowledge that you value the other person’s opinion.

Rule #26 Eat The Big Frog First

Give priority to difficult tasks

If it’s important to you, you will find a way. If not you will find an excuse” — Ryan Blair

In his last lesson to his undergraduate students, “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch shared his perspective on life while living as a terminally ill cancer patient. At one point in one of his lectures, Pausch tells students, “If you have to eat a frog, don’t spend a lot of time looking at it first. And if you have to eat three of them, don’t start with the small one!” In other words, the professor was saying, do the most difficult thing first.

In the business world, this might also mean approaching the most difficult person first. I used to work with a colleague who always shut down my proposals no matter how good or bad, they were either “too expensive,” “too incomplete,” or “not necessary.” My natural tendency was to avoid my colleague, but ultimately everything ended up on his desk. So I changed my approach and went directly to her, presenting my ideas in a way that made sense for her department. It was the first time she approved one of my proposed projects.

THE TAKEAWAY: If you are trying to sell an idea or project internally, go first to the colleague who always opposes everything. Show that person how your idea addresses a problem and explain the shared benefits it will bring to you both. Saying “You’re the first person I came to about this” means Negative Nathan is more likely to put his guard down and endorse your work. The same goes for working alone: do the most difficult part of an assignment first.

Rule # 27 Give Before You Ask

Build social capital by helping people

No one has ever become poor by giving” — Anne Frank

In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, psychologist Robert Cialdini describes the concept of “reciprocity,” in which people tend to return a favor. Cialdini cites a Hare Krishna tactic of offering unsuspecting travelers a flower, saying it is a gift. Once the tourist accepts the flower, the disciple requests a donation — and most of the time, the tourist hands it over.

Reciprocity works in the office as well. For example, one senior executive at my company always stopped by the vending machine for a small bag of pretzels. One afternoon I noticed that the machine had run out, so I dashed across the street to a nearby stand for pretzels so he could still enjoy his favorite snack. Later that day he approved one of my proposals. Coincidence?

THE TAKEAWAY: Build your social capital before asking for a favor. The simplest way to do this? Offer to do something that is easy for you but difficult for the other person, whether that is picking up a cake for the office party, developing a business plan, or creating a marketing campaign.

Rule #28 Know Who is Worth Impressing

Center your efforts on the people that matter

“Life is short. Focus on what matters and let go of what doesn’t” — Unknown

At the age of 19, Warren Buffett enrolled in Columbia Business School to learn from Benjamin Graham, the author of one of his favorite books on investing. Buffett focused on impressing Graham. His efforts paid off — Buffett was the only student to ever earn an A plus in one of Graham’s classes. A few years later, Graham invited Buffett to work at his investment firm in New York City.

Like Buffet, I decided to pursue one of my professional idols at Columbia Business School. Miklos Sarvary leads one of the top media research programs in the nation at GBS and is an expert in the industry. I decided to buy his book and studied it was if I were taking the GMAT. Once I became an expert in Sarvary’s work, I sent him an email, we met, and he invited me to become a scholar in his department. Later that year we launched the NYC Media Seminars, a conference series attracting the world’s leading academics in media.

THE TAKEAWAY: For most people, things like meetings, emails, and phone calls eat up between 75 and 90 percent of a typical work week. Don’t waste time trying to impress everyone in the small amount of time you have left. Devote your day instead to impressing the person who can actually give you a promotion, write you a letter of recommendation or give you a raise. And always remember: you must ask to receive.

Rule #29 Say No To Say Yes

Do things that bring value to you.

When you say YES to others, make sure you are not saying NO to yourself” — Paulo Coelho

Steve Jobs famously defined focus as not just saying yes to one thing, but also saying no to “the hundred other good ideas that there are.” Jobs argues that “You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

As a strategist, I operate like an internal consultant for the company. My associates ask for my help with projects ranging from marketing plans to financial forecasts and new investment opportunities in startups. At first, I took great pride in doing everything that was asked of me; after all, as a young professional, I wanted to show initiative. But over time the quality of my work suffered, and my colleagues became less interested in what I had to offer. What happened? I had become a commodity. But I found the solution in economics, in the law of supply and demand. I became more selective about which projects I took on, and it wasn’t long before the quality of my work improved — as did my reputation.

THE TAKEAWAY: If you can’t bring value to a certain proposition or invitation, or to the project you are working on, shut it down with a powerful but polite “no thanks.”

Rule #30 You Need a Hero

Become inspired by people you admire.

Heroes expand our sense of possibility.” — Scott La Barge

Mark Zuckerberg says his hero growing up was Bill Gates. He admired how Gates carried himself, how he built an empire. Zuckerberg ended up becoming like Gates, following in his footsteps by going to Harvard, dropping out of school, building a hugely successful company and devoting his life to philanthropy.

Like Zuckerberg, I’ve set my sights on becoming more like my heroes — my father, for his creativity, my mother for her attention to detail; Arianna Huffington and Michael Bloomberg for assembling media empires from scratch and Jamie Oliver, for his passion for his profession.

THE TAKEAWAY: Choose at least three people you look up to for their character, success or life philosophy. It doesn’t matter if it’s your father, Sheryl Sandberg or Sir Richard Branson, your heroes will provide you with life inspiration.

THE END (or is it?)

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