Tag Archives: Leadership

It’s a New Year and I’ve Been Thinking

UnknownOnce again, it’s a new year.  OK, a little past New Years.  I’ve been kind of busy lately (I’ll get to that in a blog post next week). Anyway,  Is it going to be a fresh beginning?  Is it going to be more of the same?  Well, that’s always the question isn’t it? Maybe not for some people, but I think that if you can’t point to lessons you’ve learned and acknowledge that wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you’re learning. If you are paying attention, you can avoid making the mistakes of the past.  If it seems like you’re not learning, you’re just not paying attention.

Over the holidays, I take time to reflect.  Not just on the last year, but I think about what I’ve done over a course of many years to get where I am (wherever that is). It’s a process and there have been victories and mistakes.  Every once in a while you have to take stock and hone things down to a few concepts you know have worked for you.  In that spirit, here’s what I’ve been thinking about that has worked for me.

Invest in Yourself.  Here’s why: no one else is going to do it. At least not in the long term.  People will invest in you so long as their short term needs are being met and so long they maintain their profit margin.  So, be an owner, and if that’s not possible yet work towards being an owner.  How do you do that? Invent your job and when you’re done inventing your job, reinvent it.  You do that by doing way more than your job description. Own your position and commit to your evolution within it.  I’m not just talking about business. Invest in your physical well being, your mental well being, your spiritual well being. Own it all.  If you are not doing the investments, own it and change it.  If you are doing the investments, own the process, own the failures and successes equally.

If you’re already an owner, a freelance entrepreneur, an Artist: Examine your investment.  Are you constantly making it more valuable with everything you do? Or are you undermining it with time wasters, vamping, avoiding issues or excuses? Be honest and make sure you are on track.

Casals

Study and Be Curious.  When the world famous cellist Pablo Casals was 90 years old, someone asked him “why do you still practice 4 hours a day?” he replied: “because I think I’m making progress.”

When I’m not studying I notice.  When I’m not studying I have the nagging feeling I am falling behind.  Why do I care so much? Because this isn’t a frickin dress rehearsal.  I’m on stage right now. My career is happening right now.  I’m mentoring those around me right now.  I’m building a business right now.  

What are you trying to accomplish?  Are you seeking out the best information to accomplish it?  Are you stretching your mind and your skill set?  People who know me well, know that I am a big fan of listening to business books on my commute.  I am always looking for new ideas.  If I could do it all over again, I would have started and maintained my discipline of studying whatever endeavor I was involved in a lot sooner than I did. If you are not constantly bringing new ideas into your life, if you are not practicing what you choose to master, you run the run the risk of maintaining your own status quo.  Essentially, status quo doesn’t exist.  It’s against the laws of physics to stand completely still.  You’re always moving in one direction or the other.  Make sure it’s forward.

Trust Your Gut – When people say “my gut is telling me…” they are usually right.  You’re gut is the outward extension of your subconscious.  Our subconscious is much more in tune with how we are really feeling, because it’s not susceptible to the constant brain chatter we engage in.  The key with gut feelings is to separate them from excitement and fear.  After you work through your reasoning on a decision, take a moment to breathe and be silent and let your gut weigh in.

Feel Like an Imposter – I am driven by fear, I admit it. I’ve also found that it’s a good place to be.  So long as fear doesn’t paralyze you, it’s good to worry that you might be “found out.”  It’s good to feel not as smart or talented as people think you are.  It’s the trait I find most prevalent in successful artists.  It makes you humble and focused. Fear handled correctly will make you study harder, practice harder and be more driven. Confidence is great, over confidence breeds mistakes.

6a00d8341c630a53ef013480b8a92d970cTake Risks  “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – Wayne Gretzky.  Usually attributed to Michael Jordan, but indeed he stole it from Gretzky.  This one is very tough, especially if you have a lot of responsibility.  It’s easy to stay where you’re at, do the things that got you to where you are now and maintain. You have to force yourself to step out of your comfort zone and try things that just might not work.  We have two parts of the brain, our modern brain, which reasons and our primitive brain which controls our fight or flight response.  Our primitive brain hates taking risks, because back when we were living in caves, if you took a risk that didn’t work out,  you usually died.  Our primitive brain doesn’t know the difference between a lion and making a cold call.  You have to push through the physiology and risk failure. You also have to fail a lot to succeed.

In my youth I knew the theater impresario Hal Prince quite well.  He once told me that only one third of the shows he produced over his career made money.  It wasn’t lost on me that he he had to produce 9 shows to get 3 successful ones.  He had to work on every one for years to find out if it was a success or a failure.  That is commitment to process.  That is knowing the math and accepting it.  So, accept the math,  get out there, take some risks, fail a lot and start realizing some successes.

Road-Perspective

Look to the Horizon – When I was learning to drive, I remember the instructor teaching us the concept of looking as far down the road as you can see and let your peripheral vision handle what is directly in front of you.  That way you can see problems as they develop long before they reach you.  This also pertains to opportunities.  I’ve always been interested and excited in the future.  The excitement of what’s coming.  I’ve always looked down the road, it’s just now that I’m realizing how well it’s served me.

Have Some Things in the Pipeline – This is the game of what’s next? In the music industry, you can have a song, an album, a tour, but you’ll never get a record deal if you can’t tell the label what else they can sell after they’re finished selling what you have now.  For every deal I’ve got, I have two more that are gestating in the background. For every move I make, I have two more long range ones that I’m working on. Some will work out in the long run, some won’t, but that’s not the point.  Things worth the trouble take a long time to develop.  You have to put in time on a variety of options and that’s hard when you’d like to have some instant gratification.

And Finally…….

The truth never lives in what you say, the truth is always found in what you do – This is the most important one of all.  People say a lot of things.  I say a lot of things. Sometimes I’m thinking or fantasizing out loud.  I do a lot less of that now, because as a leader, people tend to believe me when I say something and they expect it to happen. So, when I say something I have to back it up with action or lose my credibility. I’ve found it’s very powerful to put yourself in that position. The need to act based on my words will eat at me until I throw down and do something about it.  Declarations may set a standard to be held to, but what you take action on is how you will be judged. What you take action on will determine your success.  What you take action on tells the world your values, your standards and your true intent.

Good luck out there this year.  Make some magic!

There is no Magic Bullet

I’ve spent my entire career looking for a magic bullet.  Yes, it’s true, I admit it.  It’s naive, it’s purposeless and the laws of physics pretty much don’t work that way. The kicker is that I know better.  Sorry, we all look for one, but there is no magic bullet.

bullet_5I’m not a behavioral PHD, but my personal feeling is that the reasoning mind works so diligently to find solutions to any problem put in front of it, that at any point, the mind feels that it will find a permanent solution and move on to solve something else.

Lets take something completely inane.  Say you have a coffee maker that you have to put water in every morning to make coffee.  You hate that. I know I do.  I just want coffee first thing, I don’t want any extra work to do.  Eventually, you’re in Starbucks and notice they never have to put water in their machine.  Why is that you ask?  simple answer: they have it hooked up to a water line.  You think, I can do that at home. So, you call a plummer, run a pipe from the main line (at great expense) to the coffee maker, problem solved permanently.  I will never have to put water in the coffee maker again.  You are totally satisfied, It’s a magic bullet. Until the coffee maker breaks. Then there’s a new problem. If I could only find a coffee maker that lasts forever and never breaks.  Good luck with that one, I’m happy if I find one that makes it to New Years from Christmas Day.

We look for the magic bullet everywhere.  The next project, the next relationship, the next business idea, the next job.  Nothing solves permanently.  At the risk of alienating my religious friends I’ll say that religion offers a magic bullet of permanent peace, permanent salvation, etc., etc.  But, as the saying goes: “Jesus Saves,” not “Jesus Solves.” No matter how committed you are, there is still a lot of work and adjustment to do while walking around earth.  Eternal life?  That sounds like a magic bullet.  I don’t know, I guess we’ll eventually find out.

images-1 Even the magic bullet in the movie JFK had a lot of work to do.  As Kevin Costner kept reminding us. “Back and to the left. Back and to the left.  That was one magic bullet.”  If the magic bullet itself has to work so hard to be magic, what makes you think there are any shortcuts for you.

Every project is another opportunity to advance your skill set.  It’s never a breakthrough in and of itself.  Your success is not just out of reach.  It’s happening right now.  Success is the never ending process of realizing there is no magic bullet. This project leads to the next project.  One challenge leads to another, so learn to take joy in the process of moving challenge to challenge. Do the best you can, find your way to the next one, and the next and the next.

Relationships are not any different.  You are finding the way to the next moment. But, what moment are you finding your way to?  Are you sculpting the moments or are you just watching them arrive and pass?

Since there is no such thing as a magic bullet, overnight success, perfect relationships, what are we to do to move things forward in our careers and life? The idea of creating conscious value.  If you ask yourself in any situation, job, task, relationship, am I creating value now?  The simple act of asking the question puts you much farther ahead than looking for a magic bullet.

You see, looking for the magic bullet is the act of looking for the world around you to bring something to you that will solve all your problems.  But remember, a bullet’s trajectory, no matter how magic, will eventually succumb to gravity and end up in the dirt.

Unknown-2Creating value is the act of bringing something to the world around you which is a far more powerful position. For to create value is to break through the challenges and the transience for one shining moment of clarity and success.  String together many moments of creating value and you will create a life well lived.

 

What’s In A Word?

imageWhat’s in a word?  It depends on the word really. I have a client who frequently tells me “I appreciate you.”  Remember, that I’m paid by this person for a service.  There’s no real reason why, in addition to showing me appreciation by paying me, he should tell me he appreciates me also.  But, he does and it always makes me feel good.  It also makes me like him a lot, think of him more often and go the extra mile.

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”  – Voltaire

I came to find out that this particular client is a cancer survivor.  Gnarly, should have killed him cancer. He sees life differently.  He sees business differently.  The formalities of the agent/client relationship don’t mean anything to him.  He sees the hard work and recognizes it in real time.  By that I mean time that neither of us will ever get the time back.  I speculate that this is probably because he has seen the boundary where time stops, and he may never get another chance to express to someone that they mean something to him.

I don’t crave appreciation, or at least I don’t think I do.  But, when I feel appreciated I know I like it.  And when someone actually uses those words “I appreciate you,” it’s so direct as to be disarming.  But, only because so few actually do it.  We tip, we bonus, we say thank you and those things are great, but I don’t think they totally fulfill us on an emotional level.

Saying to someone “I appreciate you” is getting naked.  It’s exposing yourself.  It’s like telling someone “I love you.”  Do they appreciate me back? Will they say so? It’s a risk, but telling someone how you feel about them to that depth is not about you, it’s about them. As a statement of true feeling, it’s unconditional. It just is.

“Appreciation can make a day, even change a life.  Your willingness to put it into words is all that’s necessary.” – Elizabeth Cousins

Now, I don’t want everyone to start telling me they appreciate me.  That’s not the point here.  My point is that I have come to believe there is a place in business for telling people you appreciate them.  Not in roundabout ways, but honestly and in the most direct way possible. And not just to say it, but to really notice and really feel it.

Think about it.  Even the most grizzled Dolly Grip wouldn’t mind hearing how much you appreciate his hard work and expertise. If I had to say, I suspect most problems on the set boil down to crew members  feeling that their contribution (no matter how small or large) goes unnoticed or unappreciated. This tends to boomerang back in the form of slower working pace and a hesitancy to grant any favors beyond the shop rules.

We’ve all had teachers, parents or mentors that we felt could see us, really see us for who we are and what talents we bring to bear.  That propelled us forward and made us feel we have value.  And in turn made us valuable. That was them appreciating us.  How far would it go if we became the ones who lifted people up by telling them “I appreciate you.”image

The Law Of The Lid

Can lidI’m having to take a hard look at this lately.  In John Maxwell‘s ‘The 21 Irrefutable  Laws of Leadership’ The Law Of The Lid’ is the first Law.  It states that: an organization can only go as far as its leaders ability or capacity to lead.  Where the leaders boundaries are, so are the boundaries of the organization.

So, how do you push the boundaries? In Seth Godin’s ‘The Icarus Deception’ he makes it simple. He says, take a look in the mirror. If you just look at you for a moment, cut out blame, circumstance, self imposed limitations and the myriad levels of crap we heap on ourselves, there is a moment of clarity. The moment is simple, it says clearly: it’s all on me, I am both the problem and the solution and I have a choice. I can move forward, create, learn and lead…. or not.

No matter where you are and what you do, you are leading. Even at the most basic, you are leading yourself. You are leading your career, your personal life, your relationships.  If it’s not working, it’s you.

Godin_Slide

F#@$ The Status Quo

Steve-Jobs-Apple“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
― Apple Inc.

I love good advertising copy, and this is about the best there has ever been, with the possible exception of “That’s a some spicy spicy meat-a-ball.”  Apple built a whole brand on taking the assumptions of design, product lines and marketing and throwing it all out the window.  I don’t believe for a minute they were certain any of their ideas would work. But, they were certain that doing things everyone else’s way would be boring and unfulfilling. So, they were willing to take risks, and as they say: with great risk comes great reward.

More than this, they were unwilling to sit on their laurels.  They kept moving forward. For them, the status quo doesn’t exist. They continually stay out in front, finding new areas to compete in and developing products that people want.  What’s interesting is that the products are not even necessarily the best products out there, as other companies catch up and eclipse them. But, with a culture of constantly moving forward, of bucking the status quo, they are looking to eclipse themselves as a daily practice and many of us are willing to go along for that ride.

As I was contemplating this today, I received an email from Linked In asking if I wanted to follow Ari Emanuel, CEO of William Morris Endeavor. I found his philosophical statement so compelling I signed right up.  There was so much I wanted to say on this subject, but found that Ari just summed it all up.

timthumbFrom Ari Emanuel’s Linked In profile:

“Next” doesn’t sound like a motto to live by. It doesn’t make for an epic battle cry or moving political campaign slogan. But it was – and still is – an Emanuel family mantra that my father used every day when I was growing up. Sitting around the kitchen table after school, my brothers and I would spin our day’s success stories. Our father’s response? “Nu” (Hebrew for next).

So why am I telling you this?  Who gives a shit what my father said?  I’m sharing this with you because it’s a philosophy that has carried me from the family dinner table to where I am today.  While I acknowledge that you can learn a great deal from historical precedents, I think we all spend too much time and energy looking backward.  The successes or failures of your past don’t define you.  It’s the ability to turn the page to the next, better chapter.

Take my career as an example.  If I had paid attention to my “career indicators” – bad grades, dyslexia, ADD, non-Ivy League school (I could go on, but my parents would prefer I didn’t) – who knows where I would be.  Certainly not here, sharing my opinion on life.

And when a few of my colleagues and I decided to leave one of Hollywood’s most established talent agencies to start our own, above a burger restaurant, there were plenty of reasons (families, mortgages, expense accounts) to stay put.  But we weren’t satisfied.  We could see that the business was changing.  We knew that in order for our clients to play in this new landscape, we had to form an agency that fit our vision of the future. Even when Endeavor became a formidable competitor to the Big 4 talent agencies, my father’s voice once again rang in my ears.

What was going to be the next great leap forward for our clients and our company?  The answer was merging our startup with a 100+ year-old institution, a risk that many warned against, citing countless failed mergers.  Again, it was that same question: “What’s next?” It forced me to keep moving forward, and now WME is just getting started.

My point is, if you’re looking for an excuse to fail, you will always find one. Don’t get me wrong – I have no problem celebrating the wins.  They instill the confidence that propels us forward.  Just don’t trip on your victory lap.

To some, “next” may come off as a dismissal. To me, it’s the catalyst for endless possibilities.  As an agent, my job is not done when the deal is closed. It’s about constantly watching  the road ahead.

OK you’ve heard enough from me…..next.

– Ari Emanuel

That’s a pretty awesome statement. One can argue that perhaps Ari’s next with the William Morris merger actually propelled Endeavor backwards and made just made them into another iteration of the big 4.  But, that would be missing the point.  Wherever the “Next” took Ari, it took him in a direction that will spawn another “Next” and another and another….  Some will go forward, some backward.  But to have the opportunity to move forward, you have to risk going backwards sometimes.  To do nothing, to stay put is just maintaining a status quo.

What’s your status quo? How can you shake it? Can you gird your loins and take a step forward with the risk of taking two steps back?  If you can’t, maybe it’s time to ask yourself what you’re afraid of. And, if you’re afraid you’re not alone. Being afraid doesn’t make you weak, it makes you smart. But, move anyway….. and move now.

I Want To Innovate

I toss and turn at night.  Just ask my wife, she’ll tell you all about it.  She’ll show you the evidence in the form of sheets, covers and comforter not even gathered on my side of the bed, but passed over my spinning body to a pile on the floor next to me.  We’ve taken to giving her a healthy lead when we go to bed by starting with the covers touching the floor on her side.  I out run her every night.

We’re almost to the point of attaching another set of covers to the ones we have and going “double wide.”  We already know it won’t work.  My churning will make short work of it. I’m a worrier.  I don’t have happy dreams (luckily, I don’t have bad dreams either,) I have anxious dreams.  I’m just damn restless about the constant in my life: What more can I do?

We all do that to an extent, and I’m sure anyone reading this can relate to their life, their business, their relationships.  I live in a business world where someone always needs a job.  You can have a day where one client really breaks through, getting a gig that is life altering. One that enters them into a new realm of money, prestige, creativity.  But, on the same day, you still have a client who just needs a job, any job, to make that month’s mortgage.

As objective as you can make yourself, as hard as you become to the realities of representing freelancers,  it still tortures you. Perhaps there are agents out there where it dosen’t affect them.  But, those people can’t possibly be in possession of a soul. Really, it’s my own damn fault.  Me and my partners in crime are trying to take a dusty old industry and turn it on it’s ear.  We’re using technology, social media, automation, marketing and carefully crafting a corporate culture that has yet to exist in our industry as a strategy and business model.

We keep noticing competitors copying things we’re doing and we are still a step ahead.  All that is great, but there’s still a client out there that needs a job, and so my nightly comforter conveyor belt continues unabated. I read and read, study and study, implement and implement and WPA gets better and better. Not by virtue of me, but by virtue of us.  Everyone is bringing new things to the party everyday.  But still, there’s a client out there that needs a job.

So, where is the next innovation?  The next breakthrough?  What will bring us to the holy grail of 100% roster employment? Am I chasing something that will just never exist?  I refuse to believe that.  In some parallel universe somewhere, amidst the infinity of worlds with intelligent life, there is world where ‘The Artist’ did not win Best Picture and an agency called WPA has 100% freelance employment.

So, we try everyday to get a little bit better.  We get ahead, we have setbacks, but we keep going.  We try to hone our attention to detail, our communication and our commitment to each other and our clients. Don’t get me wrong.  Things are going great.  Things are just where they are supposed to be financially and culturally. Growth is right on track per the business plan. We just took a much bigger office space in Beverly Hills to accomodate our growing staff.  But, oy, I just keep spinning at night. Someone, somewhere needs attention!  The job is never done!

So, we recommit to innovate and build a company that not just sustains us, but one that honors our clients, our buyers and the filmmaking community at large. I want not just an innovation, I want THE BIG innovation.  The agency innovation to top them all.  But, what I’m learning is that exists as much as me sleeping in one position does.  What does exist however, are a number of small innovations that can be strung together to be bigger than the sum of their parts.  The key here is having the courage to explore and act on all the little things instead of waiting to think of the one big thing!

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

So, I’ll keep tossing and turning.  My wife will keep grasping at covers as they disappear and I’ll keep putting together the small things to keep moving forward.

The Purpose Fairy

Happy Tuesday Friends,

I came across this website today http://www.purposefairy.com If you’re out there and need a boost of inspiration (we all do) you should check it out.  Sometimes a little bit of a different perspective can be just what you need!

http://www.purposefairy.com/3339/15-powerful-lessons-ive-learned-from-life/

What Would Oliver Do?

In the summer of 1970 I met a man named Oliver Butterworth.  As school was off, I was just sort of hanging around the stores at the center of town.  Butterworth, a quasi famous children’s author was campaigning on the street for Joe Duffey, a very liberal anti-war Democrat who was running against Lowell Weicker for one of Connecticut’s Senate seats. It was during Vietnam and Oliver was handing out Duffey buttons and peace movement leaflets out of a VW Minivan. He had rigged a makeshift awning and had a card table with lemonade.  He was like a character out of  “Alice’s Restaurant.”  Kind of an old Hippie.

As I was just hanging around with nothing to do, (I realized later, he worked as a local teacher and was just hanging out during the summer too) he invited me to hand out buttons and leaflets.  He explained the anti war movement and how much was at stake in the coming election, and how it’s up to the people to change things.  I have a picture somewhere of me standing in front of that van with Duffey for Senate buttons all over my shirt trying to look informed and ready to fight for the people.  I wasn’t informed or ready to fight.  I was eleven, but I had a cause.

Butterworth had written a children’s book named ‘The Enormous Egg.’ It was about a New Hampshire farm kid (Nate) whose chicken predictably lays an enormous egg.  When the egg hatches, not a chicken emerges, but a Triceratops whom Timmy names Uncle Beazley.  As soon as this is discovered, all who had been laughing at the kid with the enormous egg develop their own agendas.  As the dinosaur grows amid media hoopla and opportunists trying to profit on the find, they need to ship Uncle Beazley off to the National Zoo in Washington DC, because he’s basically eating the farm.  Eventually, Congress, appalled at how much the Dinosaur is eating at the Zoo decides to declare it Un-American (Oliver wrote it in 1956 and was trying to turn 8 year olds everywhere against McCarthy.)  Timmy goes on TV and rallies the masses to petition Congress to “do the will of the people” and accept Uncle Beazley as a permanent resident at the Zoo.  They all live happily ever after.

During that summer and fall, Oliver would tell me where he was going to park the van and I would show up there, hand out stuff and get a civics lesson.  Did my Mom know I was out meeting an old guy with a van? Yes, and she didn’t think anything of it.  It was a different time and we didn’t assume everyone was out to molest us.  I’m sure she thought “well, it’s not like he’s a Catholic Priest or anything, so what the hell.”  Oliver only molested me with anti-war rhetoric and a far left liberalism (in retrospect socialism) that I think I still retain today. Actually, he was pretty cool.

Lowell Weicker sticking it to Nixon

At the end of it all, Joe Duffey lost the election by 90,000 votes.  Lowell Weicker went on to become the moderate Republican that swayed everyone against Nixon and forced his resignation.  In the end,  it pretty much worked out the way Oliver wanted it to. Oliver wasn’t a big Nixon fan.

After the election was lost, Oliver called me and told me we had stood for what we believed in and in taking a stand there are no regrets.  Not long after, he mailed me an autographed copy of the Enormous Egg which I still have.

Hollywood offers up many fights, competing agendas and deception so thick, Nixon would be proud.  Honor sometimes can be scarce.  The higher the stakes, the more ruthless people become.  Perhaps it’s just human nature.  I’m not complaining mind you.  By and large I find it fascinating, and those around me find my righteous indignation in the face of it a constant form of entertainment.

What I find myself fighting sometimes is the regret.  If I had only done this, or if only I had done that I would have gotten the result I wanted.  I always try to do the right thing and believe it or not, doing the right thing around here sometimes gets you screwed. I have a nasty habit of obsessing about that stuff long after the fight has ended.  I’m learning to let go.

For 2012 my main resolution is: WWOD (what would Oliver do.)  He had fought the good fight, done what he could, mentored where he could, spoke his truth in public, moved on from each fight with no regrets at the outcome.  He trusted that goodness would prevail, which it eventually does in one way or the other, and that setbacks are temporary.

It’s a funny thought. What WOULD Oliver do in Hollywood?  I guess I’m going to find out.  Stay tuned.

I’m Back!

Hello again, it’s me. Back from my self-imposed or should I say self involved sabbatical.  I ran out of things to say there for a while (I find we all do that sometimes) and faced with reprinting other people’s material, re-treading my own, or clamming up I chose the latter for three months. I must admit some guilt every time I passed my computer on my way to watching football or playing my guitar, but never enough to actually sit down and write something.  So, here I am again, with a (hopefully) simple message.

Once upon a time I had a girlfriend who told me about how her father got hit by a trolley car when he was a kid.  Obviously, he was OK as he grew up to father children, but the story goes like this:  he and his mother had just come from the shoe store where he had gotten a new pair of shoes.  He was enthralled by how shiny they were and kept looking down at them.  His mother implored him to  pay less attention to his new shoes and more attention to where he was walking. They came to a busy street corner, he stepped off the curb whilst looking at his shoes and …. well you know the rest, he got hit by a trolley car.

Why do I bring this up now? WPA, the company I started with a great group of intrepid and committed people just celebrated its 1 year anniversary.  The enterprise is going gangbusters and dare I say, is more successful in one year of operation than my previous company was in ten years. I could attribute this to any number of factors and there are a lot at work here.  But, when it comes right down to it, it’s about the people involved.  They all have vision, commitment and ambition, both personal and collective. As a group, we’ve flourished.

There have been challenges for sure. There was and still is a learning curve of how to work together for the common good. There have been control issues (mostly mine) and the fits and starts of implementing a new and innovative team system of representation and corporate culture. I’m very proud of everyone involved and what we’ve accomplished together.

What does this have to do with shiny new shoes?  Only everything. It would be so easy to sit back, look at what we’ve done and be delighted.  But, to keep staring at the glow of our shiny shoes would be to invite a trolley car to run us over.  So, instead we are looking ahead.

“Yesterday’s home runs won’t help you win today” – Babe Ruth

Too true. As we start to plot a course for 2012, we’re asking ourselves a lot of questions. What were the successes and why?  Where did we fall down and why? Both sets are tough to answer, but are equally important.  I personally have been taking a lot of time to plot goals and strategy.  Here’s what I have found: I’ve been very bad in the past at plotting goals and strategy. Here’s why:  I haven’t ever spent enough time doing it.  I’ve always just sat down and written it out, then moved on.  This time, I’m writing, considering, coming back to it a few days later, suddenly adding insight when I have an inspiration.  It’s been a process of several weeks now and I can tell I’m not done yet.

Setting goals are one thing. Adding a detailed strategy to achieve them is quite another. I just read “Great By Choice” by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen. I found it to be a fantastic system of goal setting and strategy.  The basic techniques are: set your goal, figure out how you’re going to get there with a SMaC recipe. These are actions to be taken that are Specific, Methodical and Consistent (SMaC) and are then formed into what they call a “twenty mile march.” A march you do day in, day out, week by week, year by year.

It has opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about goals.  In short, there’s an accountability mechanism built in. Because, you’re either marching or you’re not. You’re either advancing on your goals or you’re not. You have a specific list of actionable steps or you don’t. I recommend this read.

So then, what’s next for WPA?  You’ll have to keep reading. I can tell you we won’t be caught staring down at our shiny shoes.  This is Hollywood, the trolley cars don’t just pass by, they’re aiming for you.

Typical dress for a hollywood Trolley Car.

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