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Stoked

One winter when I was a kid the power went out for two days.  I grew up in Connecticut and every winter we would have several Ice Storms.  On these days, you would wake up to all the tree branches glistening with a coating of ice around everything.  It was most fantastic because school was always cancelled.  My sisters and I would sit around the kitchen table, ears stuck to the radio waiting to hear our town called out as closed. When there were Ice Storms they always closed school.

You see, as the storm progressed, the roads would develop a half inch or so of solid ice.  I remember this particular time putting on ice skates and skating right down the middle of the road. That is until those beautiful tree branches began to break and fall on the equally coated power lines. Then, what was a lot of fun became something else. Downed lines flailing and sparking and a stupid kid in skates trying to run down the street.  I did manage to make it home.

After several hours of the power being out and phone calls to friends who still had power and reports from the radio, it became apparent that it would be a few days before we had heat again. So, my parents hatched a plan where after waiting for the roads to be sanded, my mother and sisters would head off to my Grandparents house in the next town to wait it out while my father and I stayed behind to drain the radiators (we had those old steam kind) and keep a fire going in the fireplace so that hopefully the whole plumbing system didn’t freeze up.

It was quite an adventure.  We had sleeping bags in the living room, a pile of wood and we took shifts staying up and keeping the fire going. I was only 12, we sat up for a long time talking.  He let me have a beer, I didn’t really like beer that much at the time, especially beer that had been sitting in 10 degree weather on the back porch and was more like a half frozen 7/11 beer slushy.  But we were two men braving the elements and surviving anything a  suburban living room could throw at them.

I remember keeping that fire going strong all night. I mean the house was freezing and I’m not sure the fire warmed the plumbing system that much (though it didn’t freeze) but we made it through the night. The following afternoon as we were preparing for another death defying night on Mt. Rumpus Room, the power unexpectedly came back on.

I think we all have experience sitting around a fire and tending it, keeping it going.  There’s something primal and satisfying about making a “roaring” fire and keeping it really big.

So what about your career’s fire?  Is it roaring? Is it fading?  I’ve seen plenty of careers that at one time were roaring but one day become barely glowing embers. They got that way simply because as they died down, the owner failed to stoke it and put more wood on.  There’s a misnomer that once you “make it” your career will just keep going on it’s own momentum.  But, it won’t.  It’s just like a fire that needs constant tending.

Some say, “that’s why I have an agent” but, as an agent myself I can tell you that isn’t enough.  If you rely solely on your agent’s contacts without making and maintaining contacts on your own, the day will come when you will realize that you don’t actually know many people in the business. You’ve worked with a lot of people, you’ve done a good job, but years after the fact, you don’t really know them well enough to suddenly reach out and start a work dialogue.  When you finally do reach out long after working together, it seems desperate because let’s face it, as a freelancer, if you wait until you need work to work on getting work, it is desperate.

On the other hand, if you maintain your contacts by regular casual ‘hey what’s up emails, birthday and holiday greetings, or even just using the Facebook ‘Like’ button daily, you are ahead of the game. Through constant contact you may even make some close friends and we all want more of that.  You have to see each contact you make as a stick of wood going on to the fire of your career.  The more sticks, the higher the fire may grow.  If you make contact with people infrequently, don’t expect too big of a fire. If not at all, you will find yourself blowing at the embers just trying to get a small flame started up.

It may be that you think that since people really like you when you’ve worked with them, and that’s enough for them to think of you next time.  It’s not.  People forget very quickly and need to be reminded that they really like you. And the best way to do that is to keep being likable. When you pay attention to people, it shows you like them. When people feel you like them, you in turn become likable.

It’s never too late to sleep in the living room and get that fire going again.  But once you do, make sure you keep an eye on it every day. And more than that, make sure that every day you keep throwing sticks on the fire.  More sticks = more fire. More contacts = longer career.

The math isn’t hard, but organizing a plan can be.  Try this: make a list of everyone you can ever remember working with.  Now go on Facebook and if you’re not Facebook friends already, FRIEND THEM.  In almost every person’s Facebook info is their birthday and their email address. Add this info to your contact list. Now the hard part: use the information. Put together a daily list of contacts that can be made and follow through.

This is a simple first step towards building a fire.  The casual contacts are sticks, so put them on the fire.  When you actually work together, those are logs so make them count.  After the job, make sure you keep throwing sticks on the fire until the next job.

And take my advice: don’t try to run in the street in ice skates. It’s very difficult.

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Want to share this idea with your own Twitter network? Here are handy tweetable bits.

More sticks = more fire. More contacts = longer career. http://bitly.com/lF4tfb @agentonloose

What about your career’s fire?  Is it roaring? Is it fading? http://bitly.com/lF4tfb @agentonloose

When you pay attention to people, it shows you like them. When people feel you like them, you in turn become likable. http://bitly.com/lF4tfb

Don’t try to run in the street in ice skates. It’s very difficult. http://bitly.com/lF4tfb @agentonloose

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Driven To Distraction

Yup, that's distracting

What was I saying? Yes that’s it, no wait, I’ve got it:  I’m distracted.  It’s not that I’m not motivated, I’m plenty motivated, it’s just that there’s plenty on TV, there’s Facebook and the hours that can be spent “Liking” pictures of our relatives pets and lets not forget we need to wring our hands a bit about Fox News’ slow ooze towards undermining Democracy.  Wait, what was I saying agin?  Oh yeah, distraction.

I have lots of ideas, some of them really good and it’s easy to think that any one of them are the solution to all my problems, financial, creative, interpersonal.  These ideas can be along the lines of those dreams we all have where during our sleep we have an earth shattering epiphany, only to wake up and realize that what we were dreaming about, while in the dream made perfect sense, in reality wasn’t even coherent, and you then realize in the dream you weren’t even wearing pants.

Ah well, here it is, the end of summer again.  The end of summer seems to bring more “I’ll knuckle down and start putting my better ideas into action”  than that champagne induced semi correction we call New Years Eve.  But, how is this year going to be different?

For me, I just read the best business book I have ever come across (and I’ve read quite a few) “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.  I highly recommend this book, especially for those artists and entrepreneurs with no formal business education. Simply put, it is an examination of the differences between merely good enterprises and great ones.

Now there are six main concepts in the book, but I only want to talk about one of them here.  All of the “great” companies had in common what Collins refers to “A Hedgehog Concept”  That is one idea that you pursue that has three attributes:

1.  Something, a product or service you are passionate about

2. You feel you have the potential to be the best in the world at the skill of.

3. Something that has a CLEAR economic engine to sustain you.

Why go all business book on us Steve?  What does this have to do with distraction?  We have a tendency to bounce from idea to idea that we think will be a silver bullet of growth, progress and quick reward.  The reality is you have to work on your hedgehog concept over a long period of time.  You have to commit to your concept and keep going especially when it gets rough, especially when there are obstacles, for in those obstacles lie the opportunity for the greatest growth.

Very successful companies have these concepts and stick to them.  Walgreens runs drugstores, they don’t get distracted by a momentary interest in making engine parts for the space shuttle.  Mainly because they aren’t passionate about it, can’t be the best at it, and funding it would destroy the economic engine they’ve established.

That sounds sort of abstract and duh, I know.  But don’t we as entrepreneurs do the same thing all the time?  I constantly have new opportunities put in front of me.  I am getting much better at staying in my “Hedgehog Concept.”  I love doing what I do, I try everyday to get better towards my goal of being best in the world at it, and the economics, while always striving to improve them, are clear and can sustain me.

What’s getting in the way of your “Hedgehog Concept?”  Are you unclear on what you’re passionate about?  passions change for sure, but there are differences between passions and being passionate about something.  Being passionate about something mens you have committed yourself lock, stock and barrel to the idea of immersing yourself as far as you can, the idea being a person, business or craft.  The “Hedgehog Concept” just keeps you focused on the process of making that successful.

Biggest de-railer is fear.  What if I fail? What if it turns out not to be my passion? What if it’s too much work?  What will my parents think because what I really want to do is  drive an ice cream truck? Unfortunately, if you stay in that head you will never get started, so get over it.  Look at the horizon, it’s not going to walk towards you, so you might as well walk towards it.  If you have faith in what your potential can be and can just start moving, you will be surprised how much ground you can cover.

Now, the elephant in the room is that thing we were told when we were kids, (this is America, you can be anything you want when you grow up, it’s the land of opportunity,) that conotes ease and entitlement  and personally, part of me is still waiting to grow up, so from time to time that’s what distracts me.  Have I picked the thing for my life that I’m most passionate about?  How the hell am I supposed to know?  I have many passions.  However, I committed to agenting and being a positive force in the livelyhood’s of others a long time ago, and I have found that my relationship with my craft has deepened.  At the time I picked it, did I recognize it as my dream job? NO!  I needed a damn job at the time, so I jumped in and I found after a while I really enjoyed it.  That caused me to want to get better, and that process made me passionate about it.  It’s not always passion first that gets you started. Sometimes it’s good old fashion necessity and discipline.

But, I still get distracted from my goals.  I wonder sometimes if this blog is another one of my distractions.  After much introspection, I’ve realized that giving business advice and helping people to have the best career the can IS my Hedgehog Concept, and this is a simple tool to support it further.

I encourage you to sit down and write out your concept, clearly and using those simple steps.  I’ll warn you upfront, you have to think about it a lot and one or another of the steps won’t have clear answers at first (some of the companies studied took many years to realize their concept), but once you realize what you want to do and decide to do JUST THAT THING without distraction, you will be surprised how many options and possibilities suddenly present themselves.

Enjoy, I’m gonna watch sports, maybe go to a movie… just kidding… I think.